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BellaOnline's American Regional Cuisine Editor

Herbs and Spices

Learning to use herbs to their maximum potential may take time, but is well worth the effort.

Here are several methods to use that will help you maximize their flavor:

• Toast spices in a small dry skillet on low heat – only for about 15 to 20 seconds – just long enough to release their flavor

• Use herb stems for soups and stews- they are loaded with flavor, but aren’t a nice for garnishing

• Fresh herbs lose their distinctive flavor when cooked a long time – add some extra just before serving

• Snip fresh herbs with scissors into the dish you’re cooking—otherwise you may leave the best parts on the cutting board

• Mince fresh herbs with lemon zest to brighten their flavor

• Use the palms of your hands to crush dried herbs – then freshen with some minced parsley or lemon and lime zest

• If possible, buy whole spices and grate or grind them yourself

• In the garden – herbs need frequent cutting; snip chives often to keep the plant lush and sturdy. Pick parsley and chervil from the outside in. basil needs its tops picked continually to prevent early flowering.

• If you want fresh herbs in winter grow some pots in your own kitchen

• When fresh herbs are plentiful, use them in bouquets; they look lovely with flowers

• Dried herbs quickly lose their flavor when exposed to light, air or heat. It is OK to toss a jar that has sat on the shelf for too long. If you aren’t quite sure – sniff.

• Many cooks feel that fresh herbs are an absolute necessity. Others are satisfied with dried herbs from the bottle. If you want them fresh, try growing them.

• A nice thing about growing your own herbs is that it really doesn’t take too much space- you don’t need a farm or even a greenhouse – any sunny windowsill will work out just fine

• Wouldn’t it be fun to make your herb garden a “secret garden” -- Tuck it behind a favorite tree or some location in the far reaches of your yard where you long to visit

• Enjoy not only the fragrances of the herbs, but also the lovely cool colors – silver-green sage, dusty purple basil, feathery blue-green dill. Very soothing to the eyes as well as the nose during the hot summer days.

• At summers end, pick your herbs in bunches, tie them with big bows and hang them upside down in the kitchen to dry

• Be cautious when substituting fresh herbs for dried or dried for fresh. You will need two or three times as much fresh as dried—but your taste will be the true test.

Don't be timid... Spice up your life!

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