Meet Herb

Last year -- gosh, that sounds like such a long time! Last month -- there, that's better -- I promised you that this month, this space would contain various herb blends and their uses. Ever true to my word, here we go!

First, let's start by doing some general stuff. More and more, cooks and chefs have come to rely on herbs and combinations of herbs to enhance and complement the foods they prepare. While all of us have our favourites, there are those herbs which no one will dispute just seem to be "married" to certain types of food.

For instance: basil and tomatoes, rosemary and lamb, pork and thyme, cinnamon and apples, nutmeg in egg and cheese dishes, saffron and rice, fish and tarragon, poultry and sage . . . okay, I think you get the picture!

Before we get into the "formal" blends, I'd like to list some "rule of thumb" blends I use in my own kitchen all the time.

Fines Herbes
    Equal amounts of chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon.
    Use this just about anywhere you would normally use the single herbs for a nice flavour boost.
Bouquet Garni
    Three stalks of parsley, one bay leaf and one sprig of thyme.
    Tie these together in a piece of cheesecloth and let them infuse their flavours into your next stock pot or stew.

The following, as their names denote, are aimed at specific types of meat or fish. As I said, these are blends that I use in my kitchen, so feel free to edit out anything that you know your family might not like. I adjust mine to different palates or availability. (Even I run out of stuff!)

Beef Mix
    Equal amounts of rosemary, thyme, savoury, orange peel and parsley.
Lamb Mix
    Equal amounts of rosemary, thyme, savoury, mint and parsley.
Pork Mix
    Equal amounts of sage, thyme and marjoram.
Poultry Mix
    Equal amounts of parsley, thyme, marjoram, tarragon and bay leaf. (Add juniper berries if cooking game birds.)
Seafood Mix
    Equal amounts of dill, tarragon and lemon peel.

Now for the formalities!

Virtually every corner of the world can lay claim to its own particular flavours which can be traced to certain very specific herb blends and mixtures. Most of these blends are the legacy of centuries of experimentation and have definite roots in tradition. For the purposes of this column, I will try to cover the more widely used, better known of these.

While the blends are mostly unique, there are quite a few of them that have the use of chili, whole or ground, in common, so a word to the wise to exercise some caution in their use unless and until you become more accustomed to them.

Something else to note; if you are grinding these mixtures, try to make only as much as you'll use at any one time. Once ground, they will lose most of their flavourfulness after as few as four or five days. If you do happen to grind too much, storing them in airtight containers in the fridge will help them survive up to a month. Don't misunderstand, please. They don't go bad, they just won't be as flavourful!

Dry Chili Mixture

From Latin America and the Caribbean
    1 - 3 tsp ground dried chilies 1 1/2 - 2 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp ground cumin 1/2 tsp garlic powder -- or 5 cloves garlic, crushed 1 1/2 - 2 tsp dried oregano 3/4 ground cloves (optional)

Combine well.
Uses: Use in all types of meat, poultry or fish dishes. This is essential in Chili con Carne and can also be used to flavour Indian and Caribbean recipes.

Salsa Cruda

Also from Latin America
    2 tbsp peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes 1 - 2 tbsp finely chopped onion 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander 2 tsp or more chopped fresh chilies salt to taste 2 tbsp olive oil 2 tsp lime juice or wine vinegar (I prefer to use lime juice and sometimes use double the amount) 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

This mixture can either be blended together and kept coarse or pureed in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Uses: This is used as a standard table condiment throughout Latin America. Use it to enhance anything from chicken to meat, vegetables to tacos, tortillas to eggs.

Mixed Spice

This is a traditional British seasoning for many types of sweet recipes.
    1 tsp ground allspice 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp ground cloves 1 1/3 tsp ground ginger 3/4 grated or ground nutmeg pinch of black pepper

Mix together. This can be varied by the addition of any of ground anise, ground cardamom or ground coriander, according to taste.
Uses: Usually called for in many traditional recipes for cakes and cookies, this is a crucial ingredient in the standard Plum Pudding mixture.


This is a fairly mild mixture that comes from Egypt.
    10 tbsp whole coriander seed 8 tbsp whole cumin seed 25 gr (1oz) whole hazelnuts (or other) 9 tbsp brown sesame seed salt and pepper to taste

Lightly crush all ingredients together. You can omit the cumin and add mint instead; and you may add cinnamon to taste.
Uses: This is actually a snack mix. Used at any time of day, pieces of bread are first dunked in olive oil and then into the Dukkah mix and eaten.

Schichmi Togarash

Schichmi Togarash (Seven Flavour Spice)
This is one where you will have to adjust the chili content to accommodate your palate. This is widely available in Japan as a premixed blend and the amounts of the spices used vary according to the packager.
    4 tbsp ground chilies (or to taste) 1 1/4 tsp poppy seeds 20 gr (3/4oz) sancho pepper (ground anise pepper leaves) 1 3/4 tsp whole black sesame seed 3 1/2 tsp ground white or brown sesame seeds 20 gr ground dried tangerine peel 5 gr (1/8oz) whole rape seed

Mix together. You may also add other ingredients such as mustard seed, pepper or crushed toasted nori (seaweed). Use sparingly.
Uses: Used as both a seasoning and a condiment, it can accompany noodle dishes and such vegetables as potatoes and eggplants. Is used also as a dip to accompany Sukiyaki.

Chinese Five Spice

This mixture in integral to many Chinese dishes but is also widely used in Malay and Indo-Chinese cuisine. It's readily available in many Chinese markets as a premixed blend and should be stored airtight away from the light.
    1 tsp ground anise (Szechwan) pepper 1/2 tsp ground cassia or cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cloves 1 1/4 tsp ground fennel seed 1 tsp ground star anise

If you're using preground spices, simply mix them together. If you are going to grind it yourself, mix the whole spices before grinding so as to allow the essential oils to meld while being ground.
Uses: Used as a marinade and in sauces for meat, poultry or fish, usually in combination with soy sauce and other flavourings. Excellent with crisp roasted duck and fried or barbecued pork, it is used in particular in Szechwan cooking, notably Szechwan Smoked Duck.

Bombay Curry Mixture

While curry powder is widely associated with Indian style cuisine, it is almost never used in India, where the general feeling is that while sometimes useful and convenient, no commercial product, however good, can take the place of carefully chosen and freshly ground spices. There are many different blends of spices used in curries, each as distinctive as the area it represents. I've chosen two, but they are by no means the only ones around.
    4 - 5 small dried chilies (enough to make 1 tsp when ground) 5 cm piece of cinnamon 4 1/2 tsp whole coriander seed 1 tsp whole cumin seed 1/2 tsp whole fennel seed 2/3 tsp whole fenugreek seed 1/2 tsp garlic powder or granules 2 2/3 tsp ground turmeric 2 kokum skins (optional) 2 crushed curry leaves

Lightly roast the first six ingredients, grind and mix with the garlic and turmeric. Use according to recipe instructions adding the kokum (if used) and curry leaves directly to the pot and removing the kokum before serving.

Vindaloo Mixture

    1 tsp whole cardamom seed 7.5 cm piece of cinnamon stick 1 tsp whole cloves 2 tsp whole cumin seed 1 tsp whole fenugreek seed 1 1/2 tsp whole black mustard seed 1 tsp whole black peppercorns 3 tsp whole coriander seed 10 garlic cloves, minced 2.5 cm piece of ginger, finely chopped 1/2 tsp ground turmeric 1 - 5 tsp ground chilies (to taste) 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp brown sugar (optional) 65 - 120 ml vinegar 175 gr onions, peeled and chopped, sautéed and pureed (optional)

Lightly roast first ten ingredients together, then grind and add the turmeric, chili, salt, sugar, vinegar and onion to make a paste.
Uses: Currying in general can be applied to meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Eggs and vegetables can also be curried, in fact, most southern Indian curry dishes are vegetarian. The Vindaloo mixture is traditionally used with pork and sometimes poultry and the Bombay version does quite nicely with fish and seafood.

Garam Masala

Garam Masala means "hot spice" and is usually only a part of the seasoning for any dish. with added spices and seasonings, it forms the basis of Tandoori seasoning.
    3/4 - 2 tsp ground cardamom seed (to taste) 1/2 - 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cloves 1 3/4 tsp ground black pepper 1/2 tsp ground bay leaves (optional) 1 3/4 tsp ground coriander (optional) 1 1/2 tsp ground whole cumin seed 1/4 tsp ground or grated mace

Mix to blend well.
Uses: Used frequently with meat, poultry and fish, it is also part of curries, korma, tandoori and grills. Samosas can also call for its use. It's a very aromatic blend and does well mixed into yogurt.

Food enough for thought for January, I think. I'd love to hear from you when you've had time to try out some of these blends. Use them to perk up the mid-winter blahs.

Next month, that famous herb chart I promised way back when.