The Spices + Herbs
I can’t imagine my life without spices and fresh herbs. It would probably be quite boring. I realize that’s quite a bold statement but, you know, my life pretty much revolves around my kitchen and so the thought of not having these simple ingredients on hand to toss in here or stir in there, seems a bit humdrum.
I starting playing around with spices and fresh herbs in my 20’s when I found myself alone in my Manhattan apartment trying to learn how to cook when all of a sudden my body could no longer tolerate anything out of a box or package. While at the time the act of cooking three full meals for myself while living in a city that really doesn’t cater to the home cook felt daunting, here I am in my 40’s ever so grateful I started tinkering with these ingredients even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
What started out as an attempt to offer my tastebuds some flavor (read: relief) at mealtime while simultaneously removing inflammatory ingredients, turned into a love affair with a handful of spices and herbs, all of which I’ve outlined below just incase you want to jump on board and get your hands dirty with experimenting in your kitchen.
Since my body hasn’t been able to tolerate table salt, sugar or other inflammatory ingredients found in many store-bought condiments like dressings or marinades as well as boxed foods like crackers and chips for quite some time, I load up on spices; some sweet, some with a heck of a lot of heat, and herbs; some sweet, some with a serious kick, to keep my food from getting boring.
One thing to note before I share what I love to use in my kitchen is this: do not be afraid of when or how to add spices or herbs to your recipes. You will not mess up. Some recipes call for adding spices right away to soup recipes just before the liquid and veggies are added while others add the spices in the last few minutes. Same goes with herbs. You can’t get it wrong here.
See what happens when you add fresh basil to your favorite tomato sauce recipe in the first ten minutes when you add the tomatoes versus what happens when you add the basil in the last ten minutes just before you remove it from the heat. You’ll most likely notice a difference in flavor and that’s great. Take notes for next time and play around. There is no wrong way to use spices and herbs so do your own thing and have fun with the process.
These are four of my favorite spices that I use daily in everything from salad dressings and marinades to sauces and soups. If you don’t have any spices in your home, don’t worry. Start by purchasing one or two that intuitively feel interesting to you and see what your taste buds like and don’t like. You do not need a full spice rack. To me, that’s incredibly overwhelming. I’ve linked my favorite brands below so you can take a peak and see what interests you. Many of these spices are used throughout the recipes on this website and in my cookbook, Eating Clean.
Other Spices I Love
Pure Vanilla Extract and Almond Extract can be found on The Pantry page
You’ll never see my fridge without fresh herbs. That’s a fact. Sometimes I stare into my fridge and wonder how I’m going to use them all up throughout the next two weeks (that’s how long they tend to last for me) but every other week I manage to buy a few fresh handfuls either at the farmer’s market or the food store and I’ve learned over time how to store each one just right so I can reap the benefits of their fresh, clean flavors.
I line the door of my fridge twice a month with large bouquets of fresh parsley, mint and chives in small jars filled with fresh water. I find it best to rinse the water every few days and replace it with fresh water to ensure the herbs last awhile but, you know, I don’t always remember to do this and all of a sudden the water is murky and my herbs are wilting. What can I say? I try my best.
Fresh basil often sits nicely in it’s sealed container on a shelf in my fridge. I find it does best out of water and simply on its own. While I mentioned adding fresh mint to jars of water above, it’s a tricky one I’ll tell ya. Some types of fresh mint wilt in a day in the fridge lounging in water while others do well. I find the fresh mint from the food store does wonderfully when I gently pick the leaves off the stem and place them in a sealed glass container on a shelf in my fridge, often alongside the basil. Right now, however, I have a random variety of mint from my farmers market that loves hanging out in its jar of water. So, you’ve gotta experiment a bit here. I know, that doesn’t sound very exciting but it only takes one or two times of purchasing an herb to know what the heck to do with it and what not to do next time you buy it.
Aside from these softer herbs that are sold in giant heaps in the spring and summer, I also love the heartier fresh herbs such as fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano, which you’ll see often throughout my autumn and winter recipes. The rosemary and thyme do quite well when roasted with vegetables such as in my Roasted Garlic + Tomatoes on Toast while the fresh oregano makes a beautiful garnish laying ever so lightly on top of the Heirloom Tomato Soup. Fresh oregano can also add a nice kick of flavor to each bite when the recipe is rather simple as in the Roasted Carrot + Butternut Squash Tart.
Overall, my cooking would not be what it is what it is without a few simple spices and fresh herbs. They really make all the difference in the world. If you’re intimidated by purchasing fresh herbs and don’t know where to begin, try one such as basil and add it to burgers, salads or a pasta dish. See what you think! If you’re into it, great. If not, great and try something else such as tarragon or rosemary. Have fun with it.
I know that sounds easier said than done but trust me, once you start adding in a pinch of spices and a handful of fresh herbs to your everyday meals, you’ll notice you’re not reaching for store-bought condiments or flavorings as often as you used to. Your taste buds will adjust and you’ll notice yourself gravitating towards wanting to add some fresh flavor to your meals because whatever was used in the past, often just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your taste buds are smart. Trust them.