Monday, January 12, 2009

Herbs & Spices

If you follow my other blogs, then you know I can't imagine cooking without herbs or spices. That said, I usually stick to my personal favorite herbs - cilantro, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary and occasionally dill and a bay leaf. As for spices, I love ginger, can't live without garlic or onions (which actually fall under herbs in the book) and am always willing to experiment with more exotic (at least to me) spices.

So this book Herbs & Spices by Jill Norman will be used frequently. I expected lots of recipes with some information about the various herbs and spices. To my surprise, less than 50 of the 325 pages are filled with recipes...but more about that in a minute.

This book is a fantastic book for anyone interested in expanding their repertoire of flavors. I love the organization ....Herb chapters are organized by fresh & mild herbs, sweet herbs, citrus or tart, licorice or anise flavored herbs, minty herbs, oniony (including garlic), bitter or astringent herbs like chicory (which I never knew what to do with other than make ersatz coffee) and pungent or spicy herbs. There's also a chapter on how to prepare herbs - which is very comprehensive, with tips on chopping/pounding, drying/rubbing as well as how to make vinegars and butters. Chapters for spices are organized in the same manner.

Let me give you an example of a page....I'll use Purslane as an's an herb I've heard of, but can't, make that couldn't tell you anything about before today. It's a sprawling annual, used for centuries in Southern Europe and the Middle East; important source of vitamin C & iron; one of the best plant sources for Omega 3.

The left column of each page:
Parts Used: leaves , young shoots and pretty flowers can be added to salads. Purslane is always eaten fresh.
Buying & Storing: will keep 2-3 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. In summer Greek & Turkish grocers have large bunches (I hope that's true in Halifax). In Mexico, it's readily available in markets.
Grow your own: detailed account, but since I have no place to grow any, I'll leave that for you to check.

Rest of the page: stunning colored photo of the herb/spice, a description of the plant varieties and naturally, the culinary uses.
I'll still use Purslane as the example:

"young leaves make agreeable addition to salad. In the Middle East, chopped purslane with a garlicky yoghurt dressing is served as an accompaniment to grilled meats. The herb is also a standard ingredient of fattoush, the Lebanese Salad. (I guess I'll have to find some for the version I make).

Blanch older leaves to use as vegetable. Cooking emphasizes their mucilaginous content, which provides a good thickening for soups and stews. In Turkey, large bunches of purslane are used in traditional lamb and bean stew, ...." (There's more, but you get the idea).

Good with: beets, cucumber, eggs, fava beans, feta cheese, new potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, yoghurt.

Combines well with: arugula, borage, chervil, cresses, salad burner (another one to look up) & sorrel.

It's a fantastic reference book, and naturally I couldn't resist quickly whipping up a couple of excellent condiments. The Peruvian Parsley salsa was perfect over Seared Scallops on a bed of arugula. I'll be using some Puerto Rican Ajilimojili over pan roasted tilapia tonight.

Which leads me to the back of the book...the recipes... definitely more than just recipes. The first few pages are all about herb mixtures from Bouquets garnis (there are different ones, depending on what you want to cook), and descriptions of mixtures like herbes fines, persillade, gremolata, herbes de Provence and more. And if that's not enough... the author also has a section on blends by country.

See what I mean, I'll be referring to this one often.

1 comment:

Pam said...

This sounds like a must-have book!