A versatile and widely used aromatic herb. Basil is an annual plant that is easy to grow from seed but is very sensitive to cold. The plant grows well in warm climates and is widely used throughout southern Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, and in many parts of Asia. There are numerous species of basil; some have scents reminiscent of pineapple, lemon, cinnamon or cloves; others have beautiful purple leaves. The variety called holy basil (tulsi) is an essential part of an authentic Thai curry. In Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato is a classic combination. Pesto, made from basil leaves and pine nuts, with parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil (traditionally pounded together in a mortar and pestle – the latter lends pesto its name) is another classic dish.
Goes well with: Tomato sauces, Pesto, Pizza, Bruschetta, Salad, Mozerella and pasta dishes
Substitute: Oregano or thyme
The aromatic leaf from the bay laurel tree, it is an essential component of the classic bouquet garni: parsley, thyme and a bay leaf. The bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store cupboard ingredient. It’s also one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose its flavour when dried.
Goes well with: Soups and chowders; add to water for cooking vegetables. (i.e.) potatoes or pasta; spaghetti sauce, casseroles, stews; meat, especially beef dishes, chicken and turkey; fish (when poaching shrimp or cooking shellfish); in marinades; part of bouquet garni; in milk to flavor rice pudding. Almost indispensible when cooking.
Substitute: Bouquet Garni, Thymes
The smallest and most delicate member of the onion family, chives are a popular herb used in European cookery. They have long, thin green blades that are hollow inside. They have a mild, grassy flavour similar to baby spring onions or young leeks. There is also an Asian variety of chive called Chinese chives, garlic chives or kuchai.
Goes well with: Omelettes, quiche, cheese spreads and dips, tuna salad; sprinkled over broiled tomatoes, green salad, potato salad, potato salad, potato soup, baked potatoes and other vegetables; to garnish soups. The purple flowers of onion chives are edible (soups, salads), have an oniony flavor and make a beautiful pink-purple vinegar.
Substitute: Green onions (scallions); onion; or leek
Coriander is one of the world’s most commonly used herbs – in spite of the fact that the name comes from the Greek, koris, meaning bed bug! It is green, leafy and strong-smelling with a fresh, citrus taste that makes it an invaluable garnish and flavour enhancer. Both the fresh leaves and stalks are edible, as well as the berries, which are dried and called coriander seeds. Native to southern Europe and the Middle East, the plant is now grown worldwide. Coriander tends to be associated most with Asian and Central and South American cooking. For maximum flavour, it is best added to dishes just before serving.
Goes well with: Chicken, fish, lamb and rice, pasta or vegetable dishes. Also good in salsa, taco fillings, black bean and corn salad, lentil or black bean soups; in butters for vegetables or fish. Distinctive flavor found in Caribbean, Indian, Thai, Chines, Mexican or Latin American dishes. Seems to go well with most “hot” cuisines. Seeds (coriander) also used, can be collected and ground.
Curry leaves are the shiny, dark green, aromatic leaves of a tree from the citrus fruit family that release a deliciously nutty aroma when fried in hot oil. A staple of South Indian cooking, curry leaves are used in Indian and South East Asian cuisine in the same way as bay leaves are used in the West.
Goes well with: Soups, Curries, Mixed vegetables, Lentils, Samosas, onion Bhaji
Substitute: basil leaves, bay leaves and kaffir lime leaves
Also known as dill weed, this is a green herb with wiry, thread-like leaves that grow in clusters. It has a strong, distinctive taste that is like a combination of fennel, anise and celery, with warm, slightly bitter undertones.
Goes well with: Lentil, pea or bean soups; in all egg dishes, with cheese and most fish; lamb, chicken. Add to dressings for sliced cucumbers or with beets. Delicious in potato, tuna, egg or pasta salads, with cabbage, seafood cocktail, salad dressings; dips, sauces for fish. Seeds, which have a stronger flavor, used in breads, salads, pickling.
There are many different species of mint, but the one used most widely in Western cooking is spearmint, native to the Mediterranean and widely cultivated in the UK. It can be ground into mint sauce or jelly – the ultimate accompaniment to roast lamb. Peppermint has dark green leaves and is used to flavour ice cream, sweets and confectionary.
Goes well with: Use mint in a variety of dishes including fruit salads, stuffings, tabbouleh and for Thai dishes including soups and curries.
Substitute: Basil; marjoram; or rosemary
A pungent green herb with a great affinity for a variety of foods, from lamb to vegetables, stuffings and egg dishes. Oregano is closely related to marjoram. It is characteristic of many Greek dishes (particularly lamb) and in the UK is often sprinkled liberally on pizzas. Oregano grows easily in well protected areas in the UK.
Goes well with: Chop and use to top pizzas, add to Greek salad, or use a large bunch as a bed on which to roast a joint.
Substitute: Thyme or basil
No kitchen should be without a good supply of this multi-purpose herb. It can be used as a garnish and flavouring and as a vegetable. There are two main varieties: curly leaf and flatleaf. Both can be used for the same purposes although flatleaf parsley has a stronger flavour and tends to be favoured in Mediterranean cooking.
Goes well with: In Middle Eastern salads; with basil, to make pesto; add to soups, stews, sauces, meatballs, fishcakes, burgers, salsas and marinades.
Substitute: Chervil or cilantro
Rosemary is a robust and most versatile herb with a flavour that complements a wide variety of dishes and ingredients. Native to the Mediterranean, its bittersweet green leaves resemble pine needles. The plant is an evergreen shrub, so the leaves are available fresh all year round.
Goes well with: Beef, lamb, veal, pork, rabbit, goose, duck and poultry; for roasts, make slits with a knife and insert garlic slivers and rosemary leaves. Rosemary is particularly good with lamb. Use when cooking eggplant, squash and in sauce for lasagna; in vinegars, oils and marinades; with thyme for frying or roasting potatoes, focaccia, marinated olives. In baking cookies, breads, cornbread, biscuits
Substitute: Thyme; tarragon; or savory
The colour of downy sage leaves and their flavour varies but, in essence, sage is a very strongly aromatic and slightly bitter herb that can withstand long cooking times without losing its flavour.
Goes well with: Add to pasta sauces; use for meat or poultry stuffings; quickly fry in butter and use as a garnish for risotto or pumpkin dishes.
Substitute: Poultry seasoning; savory; marjoram; or rosemary
No kitchen should be without the heady, aromatic flavour of thyme. There are many different varieties, both cultivated and wild, with flavours of mint, caraway, lemon, and stronger varieties that taste more akin to oregano.
Goes well with: All meats, vegetables, casseroles, soups, stuffings, meatloaf, marinades and pâtés. Excellent for herb bread and flavored butters. Good with mushrooms, fried potatoes, carrots (and other vegetables) and in omelettes. Commonly used in clam chowder and gumbo; used in French, Creole and Cajun cooking. Lemon thyme is excellent with fish and chicken.
Substitute: Basil; marjoram; oregano; or savory
Often used in French cooking this herb has long, soft green leaves and a distinctive aniseed flavour. A perfect match with chicken, it can also be used to flavour oils and vinegars. Dried tarragon retains much of the flavour of fresh, so it is fine to use if you can’t find fresh. It is one of the herbs that makes up fines herbes and is also used in béarnaise sauce.
Goes well with: Use to make sauces for fish and poultry. Add to salad dressings; use to flavour butter or white wine vinegar.
Substitute: Chervil; dash fennel seed; or dash aniseed
Let’s Get Britain Cooking! 🙂
Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree in the myrtle family. It is not a blend of “all spices”. After drying, the berries are small, dark brown balls just a little larger than peppercorns. It is not frequently used in Indian Cuisine. Allspice is pungent and its taste and aroma does remind many people of a mix of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Do not grind allspice in a grinder with plastic parts, because the oil in the spice can cloud the plastic which cannot be restored.
Black Cardamom pods are the larger brown pods. Essential to Indian cooking and native to southwestern India. This spice is coarser in flavor and larger in size than the green cardamom. It is used in flavoring meat, poultry and rice dishes. When using the whole cardamom for flavoring dishes, remove the cardamom before serving as it does not taste good when bitten into.
Black pepper adds a different kind of hotness to any recipe. Fresh green peppercorns in bunches are used in pickles and for milder flavoring. Black peppercorns are the sun dried, hard, black, brittle seeds that are commonly used in many western and Indian recipes. This is perhaps the most popular & universally used spice, used whole or ground. Freshly ground pepper imparts a lot of flavor and taste.
Cardamom is spice used in countries throughout the world but most prominently in India and Europe. In India, whole pods, green or brown are fried to extract the flavor and added to curries. In Europe the seed is used to flavor breads and pastries.
Native to Sri lanka, Cinnamon sticks which are the aromatic brown bark of the cinnamon tree and are made from long pieces of the bark that are rolled, pressed, and dried. Ground cinnamon is perhaps the most common baking spice. The Cinnamon sticks are used for flavoring Pulaos, Biryanis and Meat dishes but are removed at the time of eating. Cinnamon has a sweet, woody fragrance.
Dried flower buds of the clove tree. Cloves are strong, pungent, and sweet. Cloves are used in many meat dishes, marinades, pickles and in many “garam masalas”. It is used whole or in powder form. When making your own clove powder take caution, clove oil can cloud some plastics. Clove oil can be has a lot of medicinal value. Many Indians chew on cloves to relieve toothaches and it is used also as a mouth freshener after a meal.
Coriander is a memeber of the parsley family. The seeds are used as a seasoning. When sprouted the leaves are referred to as cilantro or Chinese parsley. Coriander is available ground or whole.
Cumin has a distinctive, slightly bitter yet flavors any dish with a sweet aroma. These brown aromatic small seeds give out more aroma when roasted or added to hot oil. Cumin seeds whole or in powdered form are very commonly used in Indian cooking. They are used more in the North of India
These light green oval shaped seeds have been known to posses digestive qualities. In India, they are roasted, sometimes lightly coated with sugar and eaten after meals as a mouth freshener and to stimulate digestion. They are also recommended for nursing mothers, as they have been known to increase the milk supply. Used successfully in many curries and “indian pickles”. Today you will find sugar coated “green supari” mixtures containing “saunf” in Indian Grocery stores. Try it!
Sometimes whole garlic cloves are used and sometimes a recipe will call for chopped or minced or for garlic paste. Most stores or warehouses do have chopped garlic or garlic paste available.
It is a very popular spice used in Indian cooking. It has a tan skin and a flesh that ranges in color from pale greenish yellow to ivory. The flavor is peppery and slightly sweet, while the aroma is pungent and spicy. If you feel a cold coming on a fresh piece of ginger in a hot cup of Indian tea usually does the trick. Fresh unpeeled ginger root, tightly wrapped, can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks and frozen for up to 6 months. Please do not use dried ground ginger for dishes specifying fresh ginger as the flavors differ greatly.
Saffron threads as they are also called are orange-red dried stigmas of a small purple flower called the Crocus Sativus. Saffron’s aroma is unique and there is no substitute for it. It is used in cooking to flavor and color the dish a wonderful golden yellow color. In Indian cooking it is highly prized and added to many Indian sweets and “special occasion” savory dishes like Biryani, Pulaos and even some curries.
These are tiny round reddish brown to black colored seeds. They are commonly used in Indian cooking. They are used whole or broken to pieces or made into a paste or even in powdered form. Its paste has a very pungent taste. In India, mustard seeds is commonly used to flavor vegetables, pulses and pickles while tempering (Tadka). In north India, mustard plant leaves are used as a vegetable (Sarsoon).
Nutmeg is usually associated with sweet, spicy dishes — pies, puddings, custards, cookies and spice cakes. It combines well with many cheeses, and is included in soufflés and cheese sauces. In soups it works with tomatoes, slit pea, chicken or black beans. It complements egg dishes and vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans onions and eggplant. It flavours Middle Eastern lamb dishes.
Star anise has the wonderful scent of licorice. It is the fruit produced by a small evergreen tree grown in Asia. As one might suspect, is star-shaped. Each of it’s eight points contains a star anise seed. Whole star anise has a long shelf life, but once ground, it should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for no more than 3 months. It is great to flavor biryani’s and other non-vegetarian Indian dishes.
Turmeric has a very intense, bright yellow-orange color and bitter taste. It is used in almost all vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations in Indian cooking. It has been known to have antiseptic properties.
Let’s Get Britain Cooking! 🙂