How To Spice Things Up When Cooking

Large collection of metal bowls full of herbs and spices -How To Spice Things Up When CookingHerbs and spices are used to enhance the flavor of food, either it be for cooking Spaghetti Carbonara or baking an apple pie.

An herb or spice can be a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or leafy part of the plant. They are principally used for flavoring food among other uses. They can be used fresh or dried.

Herbs And Spices Through The Ages

It is said that by the Middle Ages, the most common spices and herbs being traded and used were black pepper, cinnamon (including the alternative cassia), cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Herbs and spices are useful for many things, among others are medicinal uses, cosmetic or perfume production uses, and of course they are used add flavor to a meal.

By 1000 B.C. medical systems based upon herbs were found in China, Korea, and India. Also the Egyptians used herbs and spices for their embalming practices and their demand for exotic herbs and spices helped stimulate world trade.

Extracting A Spices Flavor

The flavor of an herb or spice is derived by exposing the volatile oil compounds of the seed or leafy part, that oxidize or evaporate when it comes in contact with air.

As an example, fresh ginger is usually more flavorful than its dried form, but fresh spices are more expensive and have a much shorter shelf life.

Flavor of herbs and spices can be maximized by storing them whole and grinding when needed, as grinding greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation.

If you decide to use dried spices, be sure to use them within 6 to 8 months of purchase. Ground spices are better stored away from light, as it also increases the oxidation of the volatile oils.

metal bowls filled with spices

How To Use Herbs And Spices

When using herbs and spices you’ll want to pick flavors that complement each other, such as the spice mix known as “pumpkin pie spice.”

The ratios of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg add great flavor to the pie, and each spice doesn’t over power the other.

The key or rule of thumb to spicing things up is that less is more. Avoid adding too much all at once. Instead, add a little at a time and add more to taste.

A good example of over spicing and unable to fix it, is when you use oregano or cloves. Their volital oils are great for flavoring culinary and pastry dishes, but they are strong in flavor, and only require a small amount.

When using spices to flavor your meat or vegetables, use only 3 different types at a time.

You can even use herbs and spice to replace salt. Choose your spice or spices, add a little lemon juice and unsalted butter.

Which spices pair well together for the best culinary dishes you can make?

Let’s examine some of the most commonly used spices and which spices pair well with them.

How To Prepare Thai Food With These Key Ingredients

Collage of thai food - How To Prepare Thai Food With These Key Ingredients

First Posted on February 24, 2016 – Updated October 30, 2021

Thai food is internationally famous. Thai cuisine is essentially a union of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai.

A prepared dinner table with a Thai meal placed on it, consists of a spicy or non-spicy soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables, and there could also be a spiced salad.

Thai food has evolved much like Indian food, meaning the cooks or chefs take great care so there is a harmony of flavors and textures with each individual dish.

One dish must compliment the other dishes positioned at the dinner table.

What is needed in your kitchen to make a great Thai dish?

You need to know the “Key Ingredients.”

Key Ingredients Needed To Prepare Thai Food

When you dicide to make a Thai dish, the following is what you should find in your refrigerator or pantry.

Banana Leaves

Banana leaf-wrapped food, either it be meat, fish or a savory mixture can be grilled, steamed or roasted.

In the cooking process, the leaves add a unique herbaceous flavor to the dish.

Food cooked in a banana leaf

Photo credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thai cuisine also used banana leaves as a cooking vessel, folding them into a shape that will hold and cook the food. They are also used as “to-go containers.

 Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a culinary herb that is produced from the stalk of the lemongrass plant and it has a lemony scent.

It is a primary culinary herb in several Thai dishes.

The flavor of the herb tastes almost like a mix of lemon and lemon mint.

Lemongrass tied laying on grey weather wood

The flavor is light and does not overpower other flavors in a dish.

It also adds a slightly sharp and tangy taste without the bitterness of lemon.

It is commonly used in soups, teas and curries.

If you can’t find lemongrass at your local market or Asian market, you can substitute lemon juice in its place.

But keep in mind that the citrus juice won’t be able to fully take the place of the flavor of lemongrass.

RecipeLemongrass Basil Thai Chicken

thai lime leaves

Thai Lime Leaves

Lime Leaves

The leaves are a glossy dark green color, and are used to flavor curries, soups, fish cakes and even teas for its fragrant herbal notes.

Thai and Holy Basil 

Thai basil and holy basil are related to each other and both are both used in Thai cuisine.

Thai basil has a subtle sweet anise flavor. Whereas, holy basil has a more spicy flavor.

The flavor of holy basil is more like a combination of black pepper and clove than like the sweeter notes of Thai basil. It tends to get even spicier as it is cooked.

Both can be found at your local Asian markets.

Recipe: Thai Chicken Stir-Fry with Holy Basil

Fish Sauce 

Fish sauce is a liquid condiment made from fish or krill that have been coated in salt and fermented for up to two years.

fish sauce container at a fish sauce factory

A fish sauce container at a fish sauce factory in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

The flavor is savory and the color is red-brown. Fish sauce is used as a staple seasoning in Thai cooking. Such as this Pad Thai Noodles with Chicken recipe.

Green Papaya

A green papaya and an orange papaya are actually the same fruit picked at different stages of development.

Immature green papaya has crisp white flesh with very little flavor.

It is prized mostly for its crunch and used primarily as a base for salads, most notably in Thai salads. Green papaya is used in salads much like cucumber or jícama is.

Tamarind Puree

When purchasing the tamarind puree, you can find it in sticky 14 ounce blocks.

In Thai cuisine the puree is used by diluting 1 ounce pureed pulp with 1/3 cup warm water, and then strained.

You can also buy it ready made and jarred with no need of diluting it.

The concentrated tamarind is said to have a sour taste that can be overpowering in Pad Thai.

Thai Chili Peppers

These peppers are small in shape, come in green, red, and orange color, and fiery in taste.

Though as spicy as the chili maybe, it is said the chili gives a subtle fruity flavor when used in Thai cooking.

If Thai chilis are too much for your palate, you can use Serrano peppers instead.

Dried Shrimp

Small little dried shrimp add salty flavor to noodle dishes and salads.

Dried shrimp can keep indefinitely in a cool dark place within an airtight container.

Having these key ingredients used in authentic Thai cooking in your pantry or refrigerator, will always be at your reach in a moments notice.

If unable to find them at your favorite grocers, try looking for them in an Asian market.

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Italian Pasta with Pesto Sauce

Italian Pasta with Pesto Sauce

Basil is an herb, and all of its plant parts, leaves, seeds, and flowers, are used in herbal medicine, particularly “Holy Basil“. Basil is also used in desserts, including ice cream and sorbet, and custard. Depending on the variety of basil, it is used in Italian, Mediterranean, and Thai food. The essential oil is used in the preparation of perfumes.

Verities basil include the Sweet Basil, Lemon Basil, and the two just mention, the Thai Basil, and Holy Basil.

Basil is a member of the Lamiaceae family, and included with the plant species is the mint, oregano, catnip, rosemary, and sage.

Holy Basil is related to the common Sweet Basil and is used in Ayurvedic traditional practices. The leaves are used to support healthy upper respiratory tract function, and research has shown that Holy Basil includes the benefits in helping to support a healthy immune system.

In our featured recipe – Italian Pasta with Pesto Sauce – we will be using the common Sweet Basil. This meal can be prepared in 30 minutes, and here is what you will need, starting with the pesto recipe.

 

Traditional Pesto SaucePesto Sauce

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts
2 large garlic cloves
½ cup grated Romano/Parmesan or Asiago cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a food processor, except oil, and pulse. Start to add oil slowly, pulsing until ingredients form a smooth paste.

If you do not use right away, or there are left overs, store in a jar container with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent discoloration.

Prepare the spaghetti pasta according to packaged instructions. Just as pasta is done, place a large frying pan on medium heat. Then drain and rinse pasta. Set aside.

Pour about 1/8 cup (1 ounce) of olive oil to the heated pan, let warm and then add the pasta to pan.

Mix to coat the pasta and add pesto sauce, starting with a one half of a cup (1/2 cup) and mix to coat the pasta adding more pesto if needed and as desired.

Italian Pasta with Pesto Sauce (close-up)Plate the Italian Pasta with Pesto Sauce and serve.

 

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Lemongrass Basil Thai Chicken

Lemon Grass Basil Thai Chicken

Have you had lemongrass before? When mixed with other ingredients it can be really tasty.

Lemongrass is associated with Asian cooking especially in Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine.

Lemongrass is also classified as an herb and is reported to have many health benefits.

The herb has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is very potent in helping to detoxify internal organs, such as the liver, exocrine gland, excretory organs, and the digestive tract.

It also helps to lower the buildup of uric acid (herb can bring relief for those who suffer with Gout), cholesterol, superfluous fats and other toxins in the body while helping with digestion, and improving blood circulation.

It also has been report for use as calming effect in relieving insomnia and stress.

Lemongrass Basil Thai Chicken

4 chicken breast, chopped 1-inch squares

16 oz. bag Mediterranean vegetable blend

¾ cup Desiccated Coconut

1 green chili, serrano, without seeds

2 garlic cloves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil

½ tsp. Himalayan salt

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. dried basil or 5 fresh Thai basil leaves

½ tube of Garden gourmet Lemon Grass or 3 fresh chopped stalks lemon grass, white parts only

1 tsp. arrowroot starch

close-up of Lemon Grass Basil Thai ChickenIf you can’t find fresh Thai basil, the common sweet basil will work.

Lemongrass can be hard to find fresh, so the tube of Garden Gourmet Lemon Grass will work just as well.

In a food processor, add coconut, chili, garlic, oil, salt, juice, basil, lemongrass, and process until a paste is formed, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Set aside.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add either 2 tablespoons of coconut oil or avocado oil and heat.

Add chopped chicken breast and cook until outside of meat is white or oblique. Add vegetable blend and stir in.

Next add lemongrass mixture and stir in. Add 1 tsp. arrowroot starch to ¼ cup of cold water and mix till arrowroot is dissolved, add to meat mixture, mixing in till well incorporated.

Side of Wild Rice with Rosemary, Parsley and ThymeContinue to stir ingredients till mixture starts to boil and thicken some.

Turn heat down to simmer for 10 minutes more or until chicken is cooked through.

You can serve over cooked rice.

We served our Lemongrass Basil Thai Chicken with a side of Wild Rice with Rosemary, Parsley and Thyme.

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