Have fun cooking with spices

spicesPublished in the PRG Winter 2016

By Mellisa Hannum
BriarPatch Co-op

Have you ever looked at a painter’s palette and marveled at the amazing array of bright colors? Cooking with spices is similar – your spices are the paints that make your food brighter, more exciting, and more artistic.

Herbs and spices add both flavor and aroma to food, creating a multilayered experience. They can replace a lot of the salt that’s used, and like salt, they keep a meal from being bland. Since they can be used to enhance the natural flavors of a dish, not much is required to compliment your cooking. It may seem like cooking with spices is too daunting to tackle, but with a few tips and tricks – and following recipes that incorporate them – you may soon wonder why your spice rack wasn’t always so diverse.

Herbs and spices can be added at the beginning of cooking for more blended flavors or at the end for more distinct flavors. Ground spices release their flavors quickly, so make sure to add them at the end. Whole spices are the opposite. They release their flavors slowly and like bay leaves or star anise, can be removed at the end of the cooking process.

You can make your own blends. Things like pumpkin pie spice, curries, and Cajun seasonings are combinations of herbs and spices that work well together.

In order for herbs and spices to comingle in a happy relationship in uncooked foods, make sure to plan ahead and give your salad dressing or fruit juices a chance to sit for a few hours.

For the freshest herbs and spices, buy only what you need for your upcoming dish from your local grocery store’s bulk section. The fresher the product, the brighter the flavors.

The first time you try a recipe with herbs and spices, make sure to follow the measurements. Then, after you and your family have tried it out, feel free to tweak the amounts to create something that’s a masterpiece.

If there’s no recipe to be found, the best rule of thumb is 1/4 teaspoon for four servings, per pound of meat, or for two cups of sauce or soup. For cayenne or garlic powder, adjust to 1/8 teaspoon.

With a bit of an adventurous spirit and goal towards “painting” a meal with bright flavors, spices can add the perfect amount of color to your next family meal.

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