The right combination of spices can add serious flavor to a dish just as fast as the wrong combination of spices can destroy a dish. Cooking with spices doesn’t have to be a scientific dissertation, but a few general concepts can help create tastier meals. Spices not only add to the flavoring of nearly any meal, but they also can help in calorie reduction by adding flavor without the use of butter, salts, and heavy oils.
Basil is one of those spices that can be used with almost anything. It has a subtle sweet flavor that can compliment other sweet flavors such as squashes or peas, or enhance meatier flavors such as chicken or fish. Basil can also be well mixed with oregano, pepper, and celery salts. Parsley creates a nice compliment to basil when used either in Italian cooking or chicken.
Meats lend themselves well to a dry marinade created from a blend of basic spices that are rubbed onto the meat before cooking. Whether grilling, broiling, or pan frying a steak, a little olive oil glazed along the meat with spices applied directly to the surface provides excellent flavors without the calories of the oils in prepackaged marinades. Spices such as black pepper, thyme, paprika, and garlic powder can be applied to the surface of the meat, permitted to soak for a few minutes after rubbing, and then cooked as planned makes a very flavorful dish. Mint and oregano can be excellent compliments to both lamb and chicken. These two spices can be used together when used as a dusting, but you certainly don’t want to overpower your food with this mixture.
Salads can be become just a tad more thrilling with the use of the correct spices. A tiny bit of basil combined with a little parsley and rosemary blended with just a little vinegar and oil can create a dressing that is more than just the bottled Italian purchased in the store. Of course, other spices can be tossed in with a salad as the palate will accept. This is an area where a little experimentation can go a long way.
Spices are just as much about pleasing an individual palate as there are about creating a taste recommended from a book. Many people find dill an exceptional addition to salmon, potatoes, and cream cheeses. Others just simply don’t appreciate the taste and would prefer something along the lines of parsley for their potatoes and basil for their fish. When you find a spice that you love, it is natural to plop it in with just about everything that you cook. However, adding additional spices can prevent spice boredom.
Cooking with spices can become a very interesting challenge, especially when you find your cooking habits are creating a little cooking rut. Offsetting sweet spices with harsher spices can add good flavor mixtures even in regular foods. Parsley and cumin can be added to mashed potatoes, or any potato dish for an extra little chutzpah in the taters.
Garlic and chili powder can be added to almost any meat based dish provided that they are not presented as the main flavor. As with any spice, adding these to a dish in reasonable amounts can add flavoring. Adding them by the handful can make a pleasant dish inedible. Garlic with pine nuts, olive oil, onion, and fresh spinach sautéed in a bit of olive oil is a fabulous vegetable to compliment any meal. For kick, a few mushrooms can really push the flavors over the top. Adding pepper gives it a bit of flair without tramping over the garlic. Fresh garlic is almost always preferable to garlic powder. However, the powder form creates a nice addition to cottage cheese.
Ginger goes a long way when used in combination with sesame oil and a bit of melted butter when creating chicken dishes with skin. It can also be considered a very nice additive to cold cucumber salad.
However you choose to use your spices, follow one simple rule of thumb. A little is good, a lot can destroy, and creative cooking is best done for immediate family and unimportant occasions. Getting creative with spices is always an excellent idea when having fun in the kitchen as well as trying to spice things up. Cooking with spices also requires a basic understanding of what the spice actually does. Does it sweeten? Is it spicy? Will it add tartness to an already tart combination? Many spices are actually better when added toward the end of the cooking project. And for a treat like no other, let me recommend my personal favorite, plain rice with basil and rosemary.