NDSU Extension Service - Sargent County

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Enjoy Food with Flavor!

herbs


Sometimes you ask a simple question, and you get a simple answer. Other times, not so.  I recently met with Sargent county fourth grade students and posed the question, “Why do people eat?”  Students quickly produced the obvious answers. Delving deeper we discovered a myriad of reasons why people eat. 

People eating for nutrition and survival surfaced as one reason.  However, eating something because it tastes good to us is more often the driving force. NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist, Julie Garden-Robinson, focused on this in her Prairie Fare column recently when she saluted March as National Nutrition Month.

She stated, “Good nutrition and good flavor do not have to be exclusive of each other.” 

Rather than ask, “What’s in your wallet,” I will ask, “What’s in your pantry or cupboard?”  Perhaps you have a variety of herbs and spices. Some may be your go-to favorites; others may be things you purchased especially for a new recipe you wanted to try and maybe haven’t used since. 

Herbs are the leaves of low-growing shrubs. Examples include parsley, chives, thyme, basil, dill, rosemary, and sage.  Plant parts other than leaves are the sources of spices. For example cinnamon (bark), cloves (bud), ginger, onion, and garlic (roots), and mustard seed (seeds). 

Using herbs and spices is a great way to create a salt-free pop of flavor.  Cookbooks and websites have lots of suggestions for pairing herbs and spices with different foods. For example, adding a pinch of dill to green beans, fish, salmon or scrambled eggs.  Searching for recipes using a spice or herb of your choice is easy when you enter the name of it in the search window of this website: www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov

The flip side of savory is sweet. Did you know that fruit and other foods that are naturally sweet can be enhanced by adding a tiny bit of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or nutmeg?  The flavor pops, without adding sugar!

Since air, light, moisture and heat speed flavor and color loss of herbs and spices, help preserve their quality by storing them in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark, dry place; not near the oven, microwave or dishwasher.  To prevent moisture from getting into the container, sprinkle the measured amount from the measuring spoon, your hand, or a small cup (like the professionals on TV cooking shows) into the food rather than shaking the container in the steam above the food as it is cooking.  Generally, whole spices will maintain quality in storage for two years, while ground herbs and spices maintain best quality in storage only for about one year. 

When experimenting with herbs and spices, start by using no more ¼ teaspoon dry or ¾ teaspoon fresh for every pound of meat or pint (2 cups) of sauce or soup.  Be sure to crush dried herbs before adding them to foods so that their flavor releases into the food.

When using whole spices, add them at least one hour before the end of the cooking time.  However, when using ground spices, remember to add them only about 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Keep in mind that red pepper intensifies in flavor during cooking, so add in small increments and proceed with caution!

One last guideline: 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of finely cut fresh leafy herbs is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of the herb is dried form, which is equivalent to about ¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon of the dried herb in ground form.  For more information, as well as recipes for homemade seasoning blends, visit http://www4.ncsu.edu/~aibrantl/cookingwithherbs.html 
and https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/springfever/copy_of_recipes.pdf and https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/recipes/mixes/Mexican-Blend-Seasoning

References:  Julie Garden-Robinson, Prairie Fare: “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right This Month,” and http://www4.ncsu.edu/~aibrantl/cookingwithherbs.html

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.public-domain-image.com/food-and-drink/slides/herbs-spices-peppers-home-garden.html (Downloaded 3-24-16)

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