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Posted on Wed, Apr 14, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

Kitchen Mailbox: Cooking with herbs and spices

By Marge Biancke

Marge, I enjoy cooking but I am hesitant about adding herbs and spices to my dishes. I don't know exactly what spice to use when I cook. What goes with what? Can you help me with some sort of guideline? Thanks.
-Karen Horton

Herbs have been described as the soul of cookery and the praise of cooks. With a few suggestions, your meals will have soul and your meals will be highly praised.

I won't go into too many exotic spices and herbs but ones that you will find in most kitchens.

A few gentle reminders if you are not familiar with a seasoning: Use about 1/4 teaspoon of ground spice or 1 teaspoon of fresh herb for a serving for four, 1 pound of meat or 2 cups of a sauce. You can always add more if you find that you really enjoy a certain flavor.

The strongest herbs are rosemary, cilantro, tarragon, thyme, oregano and sage, so use them sparingly. Medium-flavored herbs are basil, dill, mint and fennel. Delicate herbs such as parsley and chives can be used in larger quantities.

If you want to substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs, which have more concentrated flavor, use three times the amount of fresh as dried. For example 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh equals 1/2 teaspoon dried. The only exception to this rule is rosemary. Use equal amounts of fresh or dried.

The following flavor and food combinations are adapted from information provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. They have the added benefit of making your dishes tasty without adding salt.

For meat, poultry and fish, try one or more of these combinations:
BEEF: Bay leaf, marjoram, onion, pepper, sage, thyme
LAMB: curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint, onion
PORK: garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano
VEAL: curry powder, ginger, marjoram, oregano, lemon
CHICKEN: ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
FISH:curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika, pepper

For vegetables, experiment with one or more of these combinations:
CARROTS: cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
CORN: cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley
GREEN BEANS: dill, curry powder, marjoram, oregano, garlic, tarragon, thyme
GREENS: onion, pepper, garlic
POTATOES: dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage, horseradish
SUMMER SQUASH; cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
WINTER SQUASH; cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, onion
TOMATOES; basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper

Certain cultures are associated with different spices. Here are some simple examples. Keep in mind, however that there are endless variations to each cuisine.

MEXICAN: cook with garlic, onion, fresh chilies; season with oregano and cumin, cinnamon and chili powder; and finish a dish with cilantro
ITALIAN: cook with onion and garlic in olive oil; season with basil and oregano or rosemary or sage. Add tomatoes or lemon and/or wine and bay leaf. Finish with Parmesan cheese.
FRENCH: cook with garlic, onion or shallot in butter and season with thyme and rosemary. Add wine or tomato sauce and finish with cream or Dijon mustard.
CHINESE: cook with garlic, ginger, scallions in vegetable or peanut oil. Season with cayenne pepper or chilies and flavor with hoison sauce, soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar or sesame oil.
THAI:cook with chilies, ginger and garlic. Season with chilies and lime juice and finish with mint, cilantro and lime zest.
INDIAN: cook with garlic, ginger, onion and season with paprika, cumin, turmeric and coriander. Season with cayenne. Stir in yogurt and/or lemon juice and mint.
NORTHERN EUROPEAN; cook with onion, garlic and season with paprika and caraway or dill and white pepper. Finish with sour cream, yogurt or vinegar.
MIDDLE EASTERN: cook with garlic, onion and season with tumeric and cumin or cinnamon and cloves. Season with cayenne and finish with yogurt and/or lemon juice and mint.

Here are a few handy combinations that you might want to make and keep in a jar in a dry, dark place.

Greek Seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground pepper

Makes about 1/4 cup

Herb de provence
This combination is from Simca Beck and is easy to remember for its acronym MOTTS
1 part marjoram
1 part oregano
2 parts thyme
1 part summer savory

Poultry Seasoning

3/4 teaspoon sage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
dash marjoram or oregano

Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Chili Powder

2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoons (or more) ground cumin
granulated garlic, optional

Cajun Seasoning

1/2 cup chili powder
1/4 cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano
1 teaspoon salt

All of these seasoning combinations are subject to the taste of your own particular palate. Don't be afraid to experiment with quantities and spice combinations.

Have fun!