Don’t turn your nose up at dried herbs and spices. First off, you’ll deprive yourself of any-time access to the world’s greatest aromas. Secondly, you’ll lose dozens of opportunities to improve everyday dishes because you can’t harvest or purchase fresh herbs that are obscure, out-of-season or too expensive. The more you use dried herbs and spices, the more knowledgeable and intuitive you’ll become about them.
Dried parsley brings a clean and savory flavor to hearty dishes such as sauces, gravies, soups, stews and main dish meats. Sprinkle some on mashed potatoes or home fries for a simple preview of what parsley can do. Believe it or not, parsley also does wonders for Spaghettios.
Add a dried bay leaf to just about any soup, stew or chili pot for improved aroma and to balance sweet and salty flavors. You’ll be glad you did. Tell the folks eating the soup, stew or chili that it’s good luck to be the person who finds the bay leaf in their bowl.
Garlic Powder and Onion Powder
Neither of these quite replaces the fresh version for Italian, Mexican or Asian cuisines. However, a pinch of either or both will do wonders for classic roast beef or poultry gravies that would be overpowered by the real thing. If you have onion-phobic kids, onion powder is a great way to invisibly flavor up dishes like meat loaf, omelets and soups.
Basil and Oregano
Use dried basil or oregano together or separately to up the “zing” factor in bottled or homemade spaghetti sauce and other Italian dishes, including pizza. Oregano is also great in chili.
Dill Weed and Caraway Seeds
Bring a little of “La Vie Bohème” to your kitchen with these Eastern European favorites. Dried dill weed deserves to be more widely used in soups and stews, to which it imparts a delicate and sweet anise flavor. Caraway seeds are more strongly flavored but give undeniable Bohemian appeal to goulashes and cabbage dishes.
Hungarian Paprika and Spanish Paprika
Paprika brings a mild taste of bell pepper to whatever it flavors. Hungarian Paprika is the sweeter of the two and is the key ingredients in any Hungarian “paprikash” dish. Spanish paprika is less sweet and pleasantly earthy, and is a great addition to chili and rice and beans. Many soups and stews benefit from a pinch of Hungarian paprika, as do dishes as diverse as meatloaf, fried potatoes, vinaigrette dressings, omelets and rice pilafs.
Cilantro and Cumin
Both of these herbs are strongly associated with Asian and Mexican cuisines. Dried cilantro’s slightly astringent quality also makes it useful for lightening up a soup or stew that seems a little too rich, heavy or salty.
The queen of French herbs will make a simple roast chicken ”suprême” and your chicken marsala something special. A little dried tarragon goes a long way. Its distinctive aroma of pine and fresh hay is especially wonderful on a cold winter day.
Curry powder is indispensable for Indian cuisine. If you’re new to curry, sample it by adding just a pinch to chicken or lentil soup. Because it is a patois of so many spices, its flavor is quite complex.
Poultry seasoning is a quick and easy way to bring comforting and familiar earthy flavor to turkey and poultry stuffing.
Spicy Cajun or Creole seasonings are great for gumbos, Jambalaya and more. Try sprinkling some into cooked corn or collard greens for a change from the ordinary.
Poppy Seeds, Sesame Seeds and Pine Nuts
Bakers know what to do with these when making breads and cookies, and non-bakers can sprinkle them on a toasted bagel for an instant ‘everything’ bagel. Pasta lovers can sprinkle poppy seeds on lightly buttered egg noodles, or sesame seeds or pine nuts on spaghetti tossed with olive oil. Sesame seeds or pine nuts are also great on cooked spinach, and poppy seeds spike raw spinach salads nicely.
Ground Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Cloves
Baking, especially around the holidays, just wouldn’t be the same without these sweet, homey favorites. Cooks can make use of them, too. Try stirring a tiny pinch of cinnamon into canned vegetable soup to make it even more warming on a winter day. A pinch of nutmeg enhances the sweetness of cooked leaf vegetables like collards, Brussels Sprouts and cabbage.
Many would-be gourmet cooks hesitate to stock a pantry with inexpensive dried herbs and spices because cookbooks and TV chefs say that “fresh is best”. This is true, but fresh is not always possible or convenient. A full stock of dried herbs and spices is the perfect way to amp up your culinary efforts frugally and with ease. And the tantalizing aroma that wafts out of the spice cabinet each time you open the door is one of the kitchen’s free and simple pleasures.