Herb and Spice Blends: A Kitchen's Best Helpers


Bowl of Za'atar Spices

So, cooking skills gotten a little rusty over the years, and now it's difficult to get back into the kitchen? There's a lot of reasons for that, and a combination of the time commitment it takes to keep groceries in the house and the skills that either were never there, or have been on the back burner for a long time and are in need of some help.

Herbs and spices are a great tool to jump start the process.  Spices are nicely shelf stable, and a little goes a long way.   There are so many herbs to choose from, both fresh and dried, and spices, that it is just about impossible to list them all.  There are also many sets of traditional herb and spice combinations that can make changing up the week's menus a simple task.  The trick is to get brave, to explore, to use the senses to smell and taste the way to better food. 

Za'atar is a great example of one of these spice blends.  Based in Middle Eastern cuisine, Za'atar is a combination of marjoram, thyme, oregano, sesame seed, salt, and sometimes sumac and other things. In certain areas of the region it is comprised of a specific variety of wild thyme alone.  Where that isn't readily available, this blend is used.  It can be used for so many things, but to get started out, it is a great thing to use on grilled or baked chicken.  It can be used with yogurt as a marinade or a dip, sprinkled over tomatoes or a salad, or sprinkled over cheese as an hors d'oeuvre. 

Similarly, Ras el Hanout is a spice blend that is popular in Morocco.  Warm and spicy with cinnamon notes, this blend adds richness and complexity to braised dishes, primarily stews and tagines.  It works great as a rub, a marinade, and mixed with softened butter, sour cream, or yogurt, makes an instant sauce.  This blend has as many versions as there are cooks in Morocco, but in general, contains more than 10 spices, including cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, turmeric, and rose petals if it is a fancy version. 

Many other herbs and spices can be used with each adding interest and complexity to your dishes.

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