Herbs used to flavor food the world over

May. 11, 2013 @ 09:10 AM

Fred and I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant, The Red Sea, in Charlotte on Monday night. My son has traveled throughout all of Africa and has told us he enjoyed eating in Ethiopia. This is the closest Fred and I will probably ever come to tasting a bit of Ethiopian and Eritrean culture.

Most of the food from these two countries comes as a stew-like combination with a flat sourdough-type bread. Everything is heavily spiced. Some recipes use more than 15 different herbs or spices for seasoning.

My chicken, onion and tomato stew was lightly spiced. Fred’s fish stew had more.

Herbs and spices are aromatic plants used to add flavor to food. The two fall into the category of seasonings and often the terms are used interchangeably. Usually, herbs refer to the leafy part of a plant and spices refer to the other parts, like the seeds, stem, root or bark. The American Spice Trade Association defines a spice as "any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes."

The herbs’ flavoring comes from their essential oils, which are released by heat and permeate the foods they are mixed with.

From ancient times, herbs and spices have been used in medicine and cooking. Many, like geranium leaves and mint, have been said to have healing powers for wounds and other common ailments. Ginger is believed to be helpful for digestive problems.            

Rulers throughout history have been fascinated by herbs and spices. Many of the explorers who came to our side of the world, including Christopher Columbus, owes something to this subject. Queen Isabella hoped his voyage would find the spice islands of the East.

Fresh herbs have grown in popularity because they are easy to cultivate. Most grocery stores stock live basil plants in their produce departments.

Use preferably one herAppleMark
b to flavor a dish if that particular plant has a strong flavor. How little or how much of an herb to use is essentially a question of personal taste and is usually arrived at by experimentation. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way and not everybody likes the same herbs and flavors.

You can buy dried herbs or fresh. A good rule of thumb: if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh herbs but you don’t have them handy, use 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs. Be sure to crumble your herbs before using.

I have always felt that it’s the little things you do for dinner guests or just your own family that make the event shine. I remember one holiday dinner I offered silver goblets with ice water and a sprig of mint. My relatives were most impressed.

After our trip to The Red Sea, I started thinking about improving my knowledge of how to use spices and herbs in all my recipes. Since I have access to a group of fresh herbs I enjoy, I read up on how to use them.

I’ve started adding herbed butters to all my dinner parties. I have enjoyed making different flavors. Their addition usually adds a bit of conversation and discussion to start the evening off. I served a beef dish and made a parsley butter. For a chicken dish, I made a basil combination.

Note the use of unsalted butter in both recipes below. That way you can add salt as needed without having the herbs compete against the mineral from the get-go (salt is a mineral, not a spice).

 

Parsley Butter

Ingredients

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter

5 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley or 5 teaspoons of the dried parsley

1 teaspoon of lemon juice (or a few gratings of lemon zest)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Chop the herbs very fine. Cream the butter and blend the two together. Shape. I have a butter press and I can also make decorative individual butter balls.

 

Basil Butter

Ingredients

1/2 pound (2 sticks) of unsalted butter

5 tablespoons of fresh finely chopped basil or 5 teaspoons of dried basil

1 teaspoon of lemon juice (or a few gratings of lemon zest)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Chop the basil very fine. Cream the butter and blend the two together. Shape as you like.

 

Monroe resident Jeanne Howell has attended cooking schools in San Francisco, Atlanta, Charlotte and Monroe. She and a partner are working on a cooking video project. She may be reached at 704-221-1905 or jeannehowell20@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herbs for Flavoring

By: Jeanne Howell                                               

 

 

Fred and I ate at an Ethiopian restaurant, The Red Sea, in Charlotte on Monday night. My son has traveled throughout all of Africa and has told us he enjoyed eating in Ethiopia. This is the closest Fred and I will probably ever come to tasting a bit of Ethiopian and Eritrean culture.

Most of the food from these two countries comes as a stew-like combination with a flat sourdough-type bread. Everything is heavily spiced. Some recipes use more than 15 different herbs or spices for seasoning.

My chicken, onion and tomato stew was lightly spiced. Fred’s fish stew had more.

Herbs and spices are aromatic plants used to add flavor to food. The two fall into the category of seasonings and often the terms are used interchangeably. Usually, herbs refer to the leafy part of a plant and spices refer to the other parts, like the seeds, stem, root or bark. The American Spice Trade Association defines a spice as "any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes."

The herbs’ flavoring comes from their essential oils, which are released by heat and permeate the foods they are mixed with.

From ancient times, herbs and spices have been used in medicine and cooking. Many, like geranium leaves and mint, have been said to have healing powers for wounds and other common ailments. Ginger is believed to be helpful for digestive problems.            

Rulers throughout history have been fascinated by herbs and spices. Many of the explorers who came to our side of the world, including Christopher Columbus, owes something to this subject. Queen Isabella hoped his voyage would find the spice islands of the East.

Fresh herbs have grown in popularity because they are easy to cultivate. Most grocery stores stock live basil plants in their produce departments.

Use preferably one herAppleMark
b to flavor a dish if that particular plant has a strong flavor. How little or how much of an herb to use is essentially a question of personal taste and is usually arrived at by experimentation. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way and not everybody likes the same herbs and flavors.

You can buy dried herbs or fresh. A good rule of thumb: if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh herbs but you don’t have them handy, use 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs. Be sure to crumble your herbs before using.

I have always felt that it’s the little things you do for dinner guests or just your own family that make the event shine. I remember one holiday dinner I offered silver goblets with ice water and a sprig of mint. My relatives were most impressed.

After our trip to The Red Sea, I started thinking about improving my knowledge of how to use spices and herbs in all my recipes. Since I have access to a group of fresh herbs I enjoy, I read up on how to use them.

I’ve started adding herbed butters to all my dinner parties. I have enjoyed making different flavors. Their addition usually adds a bit of conversation and discussion to start the evening off. I served a beef dish and made a parsley butter. For a chicken dish, I made a basil combination.

Note the use of unsalted butter in both recipes below. That way you can add salt as needed without having the herbs compete against the mineral from the get-go (salt is a mineral, not a spice).

 

Parsley Butter

Ingredients

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter

5 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley or 5 teaspoons of the dried parsley

1 teaspoon of lemon juice (or a few gratings of lemon zest)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Chop the herbs very fine. Cream the butter and blend the two together. Shape. I have a butter press and I can also make decorative individual butter balls.

 

Basil Butter

Ingredients

1/2 pound (2 sticks) of unsalted butter

5 tablespoons of fresh finely chopped basil or 5 teaspoons of dried basil

1 teaspoon of lemon juice (or a few gratings of lemon zest)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Chop the basil very fine. Cream the butter and blend the two together. Shape as you like.

 

Monroe resident Jeanne Howell has attended cooking schools in San Francisco, Atlanta, Charlotte and Monroe. She and a partner are working on a cooking video project. She may be reached at 704-221-1905 or jeannehowell20@gmail.com.