A capsule guide to cooking with herbs and spices

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With busy schedules and an abundance of ready-made dishes, it’s an unfortunate fact that the art of cooking is fast becoming a lost art, particularly in the cities. If both Mom and Dad are working, there may be little time to spend creating dishes from scratch. As a result, plenty of kids go off to college not knowing a spatula from a tong, how to bake a pie or make a roast with gravy. This makes for dull meals indeed. At the same time, there are a few cuisines that use very little in the way of seasoning, producing some bland tasting dishes. Knowing the basics of cooking with herbs and spices provides any cook with the secrets to dishing up some memorable meals, no matter how elementary your cooking skills may be. Food is, after all, one of life’s main pleasures.

Just to pique your appetite, so to speak, let’s look at a few everyday foods that are greatly enhanced with a few herbs or spices. A plain dish of applesauce becomes oh so much better with a spoonful of cinnamon and sugar mixed filling, but becomes a gourmet standout when roasted with sprigs of fresh rosemary. Steamed rice, with a dab of butter, is an acceptable side dish, but see what happens when you sprinkle that rice with Chinese Five Spice! In short, knowing your way with cooking with herbs and spices is your ticket to gourmet stardom.

The spice aisle at the supermarket is organized alphabetically, to make it easy for you to find a given herb or spice. What you need to learn is how to group those herbs and spices to match them up with the foods they best enhance. The savoury herbs go best with meats and most produce, while sweet spices make sweet foods taste better. The famous combination of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme is invariably successful with beef. Sweet herbs, such as tarragon and dill, are good with mild tasting meats, such as shrimp and most fish fillets. Sweet basil and tomatoes are a match made in heaven.

You can see that cooking with herbs and spices doesn’t require extensive culinary skills, but just a little imagination and a willingness to experiment. To learn more, make your next stop the bookstore. There are many excellent books filled with herb and spice mixtures that you can try out on your very next meal. There’s simply no excuse for boring meals.

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