Get to Know Your Spices

[a picture of asafoetida]

First of all, why bother buying herbs or spices?
I used to look at spices, particularly fresh herbs as an unnecessary expense. Now I realize by just picking up a jar of spices or a bundle of herbs when I go to the store, be it basil or parsley, I can spice up an otherwise boring dish or turn a regular ol’ vegetable into a meal unto itself.

Fresh or Jarred?
There is a definite difference here both in taste and longevity. The taste of fresh herbs is undoubtedly more distinct and therefor usually better. However, sometimes you don’t want the actual plant interfering with the texture of whatever you’re making and you want a spice. Spices in jars don’t ever go bad, but they do lose their punch after about a year (this is only for herb spices, spices that are ground like pepper last a couple years more). Whereas fresh herbs go bad within days or weeks depending on how moist you keep them (when they’ve dried out or wilted, it’s time to chuck ’em). You can keep your fresh herbs stay fresh by putting the ends in a cup filled with water, then placing a plastic bag over the top and putting them in the fridge. If you find yourself preferring fresh herbs, but hating the hassle of going back to the store to buy new ones, try keeping a couple plants on your window sill or growing your own herb garden.

The Basics
Spices that are typically useful in the vegetarian kitchen include basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, and rosemary (okay okay and salt and pepper). You can throw these bad boys just about on any vegetable, and even some fruits like tomatoes and cucumbers (still both technically fruits due to the whole seed thing) without having to worry much about ruining your meal. These also go well on pasta and with couscous, beans, or bulgar!

Mysterious Spices
That said, there are a lot of spices I haven’t tried, but am eager to. But first, I’d probably want to know what they taste like and how to use them! Not to worry, apparently there’s a whole database on the subject online at the Encyclopedia of Spices. Curious to know what sumac is? How about cardamom? Or asafoetida? Check them out below: Encyclopedia of Spices


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