So earlier this week I ran across a notebook of my grandma’s where she kept recipes. As I flipped through the book, I ran across this page she’d torn out from the Redbook May 1995 issue on page 144. I liked it so I had to share:
The basics for a well-seasoned dish are in everyone’s kitchen and nearest market. Here’s how to buy, use, and store some of the easy-to-find herbs, spices, and vegetables that give any meal a special taste to boost.
Herbs: Fresh, leafy green herbs are available all summer and, in some areas, throughout the year. Buy in unwilted bunches with no bruised leaves, and preferably with roots attached. Store in a container of water in the refrigerator, covering the container with a plastic bag secured by a rubber band. Use dried herbs only in cooked dishes, and use half the amount of the fresh herb called for.
Basil: This big-leaved herb has a delicate mint and licorice flavor. Rinse well before using, as basil leaves hold soil; gently pat dry with paper towels. Dried basil is not recommended; it is better to use chopped parsley flavored with dried mint and a little anise seed.
Dill: Fine-leaved, frondy dill has a distinctive fragrant smell. To use, snip with scissors rather than chop with a knife, as chopping releases to much juice from the leaves. Dried dill weed is a good out-of-season substitute.
Cilantro: Sometimes called coriander or Chinese parsley, this small, delicate, parsley-shaped leaf has a distinctive orange and sage flavor. While dried cilantro is sometimes available, it is not recommended. Best substitute: chopped fresh parsley flavored with grated orange peel.
Mint: The pointed, oval leaves are pleasantly pungent and refreshing. Fresh mint is best used in a salad or as a condiment. Dried mint is, at best, only satisfactory. Quick fix: a 1:1 ratio of fresh parsley and dried mint chopped together.
Oregano: This aromatic, thick-leaved herb, often called “The pizza herb,” can be used instead of salt in meat dishes. Oregano is one of the few herbs that are just as good dried.
Spices: Spices are dried seeds, pods, barks or roots of plants; they are available in every market and very often found in ground or powdered form. Buy spices in airtight and preferably lightproof containers, and store away from heat. Use within 12-18 months for best flavor.
Black Pepper: This pungent, dried-berry spice is always best if freshly ground from a pepper mill, but it is most commonly found preground in textures from fine to coarsely cracked.
Cayenne Pepper: A finely ground, fiercely hot red pepper. A little gives a lot of flavor. Use with caution.
Crushed Red Pepper: Larger pieces of red pepper described above.
Cumin: Found both in seed and powder forms, this distinctive spice, related to caraway, has a pungent, slightly musky flavor. It is an essential component of commercial chili powder, and is popular in many ethnic cuisines.
Curry Powder: A blend of many spices, including cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, curry powder is a purely Western concoction. In India, “curry” is a dish, not a spice blend.
Ginger: One of the few spices that is best fresh. Often called gingerroot, it is actually a rhizome, or underground stem – bulbous and crooked, with a shiny beige skin. Buy only when smooth and hard, not wrinkled and withered; when peeled, the interior should be firm not juicy. Ginger is also available powdered, dried, crystallized, and preserved in syrup.
Jalapeno Pepper: A fresh, dark green oval pepper with an extremely hot taste. Remove seeds and interior ribs before using. Caution: Always prepare wearing rubber gloves and avoid touching eyes.
Flavor-Packed Vegetables: Some commonly used vegetables, either because of their variety or preparation, can be used as seasonings. Always available and easy to store, these vegetables are used to enhance a dish’s flavor and character.
The onion family includes garlic (used mainly as a seasoning, not as a vegetable), a cluster of curved, oval cloves that make up a head and whose pungent flavor and aroma are unmistakeable; onions, both yellow and red, large and small, ranging in flavor from sweet to sharp and perhaps the most versatile vegetable of all; shallots, purple-tinged miniature onions that grow in clusters of cloves, like garlic, and whose flavor is more subtle than onion; scallions, long, thin, delicate-flavored onions whose white bulbs and slender green leaves can be used in a variety of ways. All members of the onion family have a stronger flavor if used raw; sauteing, broiling, or roasting mellows their taste. Store onions, garlic and shallots in a cool, dry place; refrigerate scallions.
Red bell peppers are a mainstream ingredient both cooked and raw. But if broiled until softened and charred, then peeled and seeded, these peppers add a rich and complex flavor note to many dishes. Quick fix: Look for roasted red peppers in jars.