The versatility of herbs and spices
Herbs and spices were used medicinally in the past, and in many regions of the world, particularly where these herbs grow, they are still appreciated for their ability to promote health due to many of their properties: antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, glucose & cholesterol lowering qualities as well as possessing properties that affect cognition and mood (1). Over the last decades, herbs and spices have been extensively researched as contributors of dietary polyphenols, micronutrients that have been linked to the prevention of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and type 2 diabetes (2).
When it comes to cooking with herbs and spices there are two important things to take into account: their cooking time and their storage.
1. Cooking time
Robust herbs with strong flavours such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram and bay leaf, have thick, woody stems that allow them to release their flavour more slowly. This type of herb can be added early in the cooking process, as they can withstand longer cooking temperatures. These are great for adding into soups, stews or with sausages.
Tender herbs such as dill, parsley, coriander, basil and mint, bruise easily, have delicate and edible stems, and have a higher moisture content so they don’t stand long cooking temperatures very well. This type should be chopped carefully without releasing green residue as to avoid draining out all of their fresh flavour. They should be added at the end of cooking to keep them fresh in taste, texture, and colour.
Spices should be added at the beginning of cooking and cooked in oil to strengthen their flavours and aromas, as the majority of spices are oil soluble.
2. Storing herbs & spices
Basil and parsley can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. However, coriander loves cool temperatures and should be stored in the fridge. I personally like to store them in my kitchen counter to enjoy them for their smell and aesthetically. However, to extend their life, I always keep some in the fridge. On the day I buy them, I remove the plastic band around them, wash and dry them carefully with a tea towel, and trim their stems. Washing and drying them will help to remove any debris or germs that will promote decay. Then, I put them in the fridge in a jar with a lid which drastically extends how fresh they remain.
For spices it is much easier, the most important thing is to store them in a cool, dry place, and that the spices are sealed tightly in containers. I like to buy some of them whole and toast them, grind them with a mortar & pestle or in a coffee grinder myself.
This dish is great as a side or to enjoy as a main with brown basmati rice. Serves 4
- 250g Puy lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp ground cumin
- Seeds of 2 cardamon pods, crushed
- 1 medium onion
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed with a little salt
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- 1 tbsp chopped basil
Put the lentils into a large saucepan with the bay leaves, spices, and a whole onion. Add 900ml (1 ½ pints) water, bring the water to the boil, then simmer, partly covered, until the lentils are tender, for about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Drain thoroughly and discard the bay leaves and onion. Heat the olive oil, stir in the garlic, and pour over the lentils, turning them to coat them well. Stir in the herbs and serve.
Health benefits of coriander seeds and mint.
THE ESSENTIAL OILS IN CORIANDER SEEDS MAKE THEM AN EFFECTIVE DRUG AGAINST FLATULENCE AND DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS (3)
The mint family is one of the most useful medicinal and culinary herb families. The most commonly use herbs such as Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Savoy and Thyme, are all members of the mint family.
THE VOLATILE OILS IN MINT, SUCH AS MENTHOL, THYMOL, AND CARVACROL, EXERT ANTIMICROBIAL EFFECTS (4)
In this delicious Moghul dish the lamb is cooked in a spiced yogurt sauce thickened with poppy seeds and almonds.
The combination of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander in this recipe is recognised as carminative (relieving flatulence) and stimulating to the digestion. (5) Serves 6-8
- 450ml thick yogurt
- Small piece ginger, chopped
- 4 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tbsp blanched almonds
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- Small piece cinnamon
- 3 blades mace
- ½ tsp cumin or black cumin seeds
- 4 cloves
- Seeds of 4 brown cardamoms
- 10 black peppercorns
- 3 tbsp ghee
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 kg organic grass-fed lamb, cubed
- ¼ tsp powdered saffron soaked in 1 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Set a fine strainer over a bowl and strain the yogurt in it for 1 hour. Discard the whey in the bowl. Blend the ginger, chillies, garlic, and 3 tbsp water to a paste. Grind together the almonds and all the spices.
Heat the ghee in a large, heavy pan and fry the onion until golden. Stir in the ginger paste and the ground almonds and spices, and fry 2-3 minutes more. Add the meat and stir well to coat it with the spices. Add the yogurt and saffron, season with salt, and cover the pan.
Simmer over very low heat for 1 ½ - 2 hours, until the lamb is tender. Stir frequently to make sure it is not sticking; if necessary, add a little water. Garnish with the coriander.
Health benefits of fresh ginger, cloves and saffron.
GINGER IS EXCELLENT AT PREVENTING GAS, REDUCING SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH MOTION SICKNESS AND HELPING WITH NAUSEA AND VOMITING DURING PREGNANCY. GINGER CONTAINS VERY POTENT ANTI-INFLAMMATORY COMPOUNDS CALLED GINGEROLS (5)
SAFFRON AND ITS COMPONENTS COULD BE CONSIDERED AS A PROMISING IMMUNOREGULATORY AGENT IN THE TREATMENT OF IMMUNE DISORDERS SUCH AS ASTHMA AND INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (7)
CLOVES ARE THE MOST ANTIOXIDANT-PACKED COMMON SPICE (6).
CLOVES CONTAIN, EUGENOL, A COMPOUND WHICH MAY HELP WITH THE PREVENTION OF TOXICITY FROM ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTANTS, PREVENTION OF DIGESTIVE TRACT CANCERS, TREATMENT OF JOINT INFLAMATION, AND COMBAT TOOTHADCHE, SORE GUMS AND ULCERS DUE TO MILD ANESTHETIC AND ANTIBACTERIAL AGENTS THEY HAVE (5)
Most regions of the world have developed their favourite sauces, as a dip, to accompany dishes, or as an integral part of the cooking process. There are different versions of salsa verde around the world, Mexican, Italian, French, Argentinian, and German varieties, just to name a few. Each of these salsa verde recipes have specific local names, like chimichurri in Argentina or gremolata in Italy. This green sauce goes incredible with fish, grilled meats, artichokes, cauliflower or broccoli.
2 handful of parsley springs, chopped
A few springs of mint, chopped
A few springs of basil, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
Approx. 150ml cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blend the herbs, garlic, capers, and anchovy fillets to a coarse paste in a food processor. Scrape down the sides and trickle in enough oil through the feed tube to make a smooth sauce. Season to taste.
To help you start adding herbs to your dishes.
|FISH (salmon, sardines, prawns, etc)||Thyme, dill, basil, mint, coriander and parsley|
|MEAT (lamb, beef, pork, etc)||Rosemary, parsley, oregano, coriander, tarragon, thyme and mint.|
ROAST CHICKEN (drumstick, thigh, breast, etc)
Sage, basil, coriander, rosemary, lemongrass, oregano, kaffir lime, thyme, dill, mint and parsley.
|VEGETABLES (cauliflower, butternut squash, broccoli, etc)||Basil, coriander, parsley, sage and mint.|
|GRAINS (quinoa, buckwheat, millet, etc)||
Basil and mint.
RICE (basmati, wild rice, red rice, etc)
Basil, coriander and mint.
(1) Jiang TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mr 1;102(2): 395-411.doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418.Epub 2019 Jan 16. PMID :30651162.
(2) Opara, E.I.; Chohan, M. Culinary Herbs and Spices: Their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing Their True Health Benefits. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2014, 15, 19183-19202.
(3) Murray M.T 2017, The magic of food: live longer and healthier – and lose weight- with the synergetic diet, Atria books, New York.
(4) Muntean D, Licker M, Alexa E, Popescu I, Jianu C, Buda V, Dehelean CA, Ghiulai R, Horhat F, Horhta D, Danciu C. Evaluation of essential oil obtained from Mentha x piperita L. against multidrug-resistant strains. Infect Drug Resist. 2019; 12:2905-2914 https://doi.org/10.2147/IDR.S218241
(5) Murray M.T, Pizzorno N.D, Pizzorno L. 2008, The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, Piatkus, London.
(6) Greger M. 2018, How not to Die, Pan Macmillan, London.
(7) Zeinali M, Zirak MR, Rezaee SA, Karimi G, Hosseinzadeh H. Immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of Crocus sativus (Saffron) and its main active constituents: A review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2019; 22(4): 334-344.doi:10.22038/ijbms.2019.34365.8158