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Generally I use spices & herbs when cooking & baking. So I think a post about these essential partners in my kitchen might be quite interesting.
Herbs & spices aren’t cheap, however, if you store them appropriately you can profit by them for a long time. There are – of course – some basics which are indispensable in a well-assorted pantry; furthermore there are some extraordinary species on top of the basics – as a rule more expensive w/ limited range of applications.
…& last, but not least: there are the “It-herbs” & “It-spices“ („It” like in “It-Girl”).
I like to start w/ herbs which are easier to discuss than spices (I think).
In general it is no problem to work w/ fresh herbs in your kitchen. You don’t need a kitchen garden w/ lots of herbs – my experience w/ growing my own herbs in my garden was disappointing. (After some years I capitulated: sometimes too much heat, sometimes too much rain, too many plant lice…) So I moved inside & started w/ a row of pots on my window sill.
I buy fresh herbs in my trusted food store or in a nursery. Generally the herbs last for some weeks or even months – always depending on how often I harvest any fresh herbs.
What do I foster & nourish?
- Mediterranean herbs…
I’m talking about:
- fresh basil
- fresh thyme
- fresh rosemary
- fresh sage
- fresh oregano
If you roam the vegetable quarter in your trusted food store you’ll find many more, however, think about how & when to use them before buying. Sometimes fresh herbs like to fade away although you looked after them thoroughly – meaning they are for „use at once“… (I made this experience e. g. when buying fresh dill or fresh mint or fresh coriander.)
It may also turn out economic to invest in a pot with bay. When bought in spring it’ll last until autumn or even winter. You can harvest fresh bay leaves all the time – finally in the end you can dry the leaves on your kitchen counter (1-2 days) & store them in a glass jar for further use.
Next to Mediterranean herbs you’ll also find parsley and chives… Whenever I bought some pots of them they started growing – just growing & producing far more parsley and chives that I could process.
What to do?
You can harvest a lot of parsley & chives, clean under running water (if necessary!) & let it dry thoroughly for some hours spread on your kitchen counter. (Attention: turn them over & loosen them up every now & then!) Afetrwards you can chop finely the fresh parsley as well as the chives – and store them in an airtight container in your fridge in the fresh department (about 0° C). My experience: it’ll be fine for at least 2 weeks provided it is fresh, but really dry! (I’m not convinced of freezing fresh herbs by myself – it always went wrong & I had a humid mess when unfreezing.)
More fresh herbs?
If you need a potpourri of special fresh herbs e. g. for some approach to Frankfurter Green Dressing don’t fiddle w/ several pots, but look for a bunch of fresh herbs designed & packed for just this purpose.
For the record:
My window sill is limited. I manage to store about 5-6 pots. Of course when you’ve got more space & you need always a wider variety just grow more…
„It“ herbs? I think it’s coriander & variations of basil like Thai basil, purple basil, African basil… (at the moment!). Apart from coriander – I’ve to admit that my better half doesn’t like fresh coriander… – I’m convinced that you can always manage w/ simple green basil from Mediterranean area.
All year round dried herbs are available & I’ve got all I have on my window sill also in my kitchen stored safely in small glass jars – and of course some more. In general whenever I have fresh herbs I use fresh herbs – whenever there are no fresh herbs available I rely on dried herbs. There are some exceptions: sometimes it’s better to use dried herbs… If you like to decorate some hot pizza from the oven w/ beautiful green fresh basil leaves it’s only fine for about some minutes – then the basil leaves go limp and ugly. (So as a food blogger I’d succeed in taken a photo, but then…).
I think it’s time to deal w/ some essentials like garlic, ginger and lemongrass. (We are now moving on to spices slowly…).
I always use fresh garlic (chopped/minced/pressed). Dried garlic powder is a no-go! Especially because there is no point in not being able to lay hands on fresh garlic.
I like fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is inevitable for any Asian dish. Ginger may be stored in your fridge for some weeks. The cut face will dry, of course, but inside it stays fresh. There is also ground dried ginger, a very spicy spice. It’s great for use in any cake or muffin or cookie…
Lemongrass – you’ll definitely need fresh long stems for any cocktail! It’s also fine to use fresh lemongrass in any Asian dish. You may store lemongrass in your fridge for up to 2 week (or even longer?). There is also dried lemongrass – maybe a solution when no fresh lemongrass is available.
Before making a deep dive into spices… salt is salt is salt & it isn’t a spice in my opinion – and it doesn’t matter if you can buy some dozen types of salt from different regions all over the world by now.
Pepper is a spice in my opinion. Generally I use a mix of different peppercorns (black, white, green…) in my pepper mill & grind freshly whenever I need. In addition I’ve a small supply of finely ground black & white pepper for special use in recipes.
Nuts are no spices in my opinion – except nutmegs. I always buy whole nutmegs & grate some nutmeg when I need it.
…& for the rest: I’ve got quite a range of spices (cumin, curcuma, coriander, cardamom, caraway, juniper berries, allspice, saffron, mace, paprika, chili, cloves, mugwort…). Sometimes I’ve got the ground version, sometimes the whole version – or even both. In addition I’ve got some spice mixes like curry, 5-spices-mix, garam masala, Chinese mix… My latest new member of the gang is Ras el Hanout.
It took me quite a long time (several years) until I had my range of spices. Sometimes you are misled to buy some „exotic“ spice for a special dish – you’ll never use again during the next year. Over the years a basic range will develop crowned by some more exotic spices – it’s best to confine yourself before the spices flood the banks. Honestly, how many spices & dried herbs does anybody really need?
How to store them?
I always put my spices as well as my dried herbs in small glass jars w/ screw top – airtight. They are not sitting prominently on my kitchen top, but stored away in a drawer where it is dark & cool & dry. There are 2 notorious enemies to all spices & dried herbs: humidity & sunshine.
For the record:
Stay away from these elegant spice racks…
Stay away from storing anything in little plastic bags in which they usually arrive… (If it’s a solid plastic container – it’s ok for some time.)
Some time ago I read in an article that you should renew all your spices & herbs every 3 months… (I think this article was well sponsored by spice companies!) Of course spices & herbs suffer from storing & will lose their characteristic flavours – but never within 3 months. If you store your cooking partners in glass jars etc. & keep them cool & dry & dark you only need to check once a year about their well-being. However, as soon as you think there might be some mildew or the aroma seems to have vanished into thin air discard at once.
For the record:
Don’t buy big batches of spices & dried herbs although it seems to be more economical. I use quite a lot of spices & herbs, but I always buy small packages or containers (i. e. about 30-40 g for ground spices, about 20-25 g for dried herbs) & I can rely on these amounts for at least 6-12 months.
„It“ spices: I observed that Middle Eastern & North African spices are hyped at the moment. They slowly invade the spice ranges in our trusted food stores. Maybe it’s the fall-out of the chic Middle East cuisine on its triumphal procession into our kitchens. (Just have a look at the pile of corresponding cookbooks in your trusted bookstore or at amazon!)
In this context there is also a growing variety of assorted chili flavours. (I remember that it was rather difficult to get some Jalapaño chili about 10-15 years ago – now there is a manifold of chili flavors from all over the world. Well… Think about if you really need a lot of different ground chili peppers – chili is chili & it’s hot (a little hot, hot or even really hot-hot…). My experience: the hotter the chili the less you’ll taste… & there are also fresh chili peppers to be preferred!
Another trend are mixed spices ready for use. Well – there was always some „steak mix“ or „salad herbs mix“ or so… Nowadays you’ll find more than 1 rack in your trusted food store w/ mixes for everything attractively wrapped & labelled! When buying think of how much you’ll use… If e. g. you are an absolute fan of some dish & will prepare it once a week it may be a good deal…
In general spice mixes are fine when you may use them in many a way – it’s definitely better than trying you to create your own mix. I remember when I had my 1st Indian cookbook describing in detail how to proceed w/ special Indian seeds, roast them, grind them, mix them – our apartment stank like hell from the roasting & the mix was… somewhat strange!