In reviewing some of the best herbs and spices for beginning cooks, versatility, ease of use and taste are very important. Some of the herbs and spices that have become legendary in traditional dishes might be a great place to begin, as you cannot argue with hundreds of years of success.
Parsley cannot be overlooked in cooking and in food presentation. The appearance of food is equally important to the taste. Parsley is the most used herb in the culinary arts. This is because of its mild flavor in entrees, and because it adds so much visual appeal to an otherwise mediocre dish. Using parsley generously for decoration can make the beginning cook an instant hit.
Thyme is an age-old standby when cooking meats, soups, tomatoes and eggs, to name a few. It does not overpower the flavor of the food, and blends well with other herbs and spices. It can be used either fresh or dried, but the fresh herb may be more difficult to find. The fresh herb has a stronger flavor than the dried. This herb goes back to ancient Egypt, where it was used for incense, strength, protection and to ensure safe passage to the next world.
Sage always displays itself magnificently in poultry, pork and fatty meats such as sausage. Having a stronger flavor than many other herbs, sage always adds a flair during holidays in stuffings and gravies. Remember that smell at Gramma’s house at Christmas? Chances are, it was sage.
While many think of garlic an an herb, it is actually classified as a spice. Used since ancient times as a medicine and as an antibiotic, garlic is a member of the rose family. The ease of use of garlic in all its forms in many dishes can turn a so-so meal into a smashing success all by itself. Few other herbs can claim this talent. Whether it is used fresh from cloves, chopped in a jar or powdered, garlic adds an enticing aroma and flavor to most meats, chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. It is exceptional in pasta. It can also be added to oils or butters for garlic bread or as a topping for side dishes when blended with cream cheeses. No professional cook would be without it in their cupboard.
The common pepper has been overlooked as an excellent addition to many foods. It, too, is versatile, and comes in white in addition to the common black pepper. Used somewhat sparingly, pepper, in both its forms contributes a somewhat spicy aspect to many dishes without adding too much flavor. It has the capacity to “bump it up” without alienating the diner. As a companion to other herbs and spices, pepper can be relied on to harmonize well with almost any main or side dish. Black pepper is also a superb source of Vitamin C.
Cinnamon is a favorite, and while it is usually thought of as an ingredient of desserts, cinnamon can also be used with meat and vegetable dishes. It does not combine quite as well with other common herbs and spices, so main dish recipes using cinnamon would need to be followed for the beginning cook. Indian dishes use this spice quite a bit, so if you like Indian food, you may wish to explore ways to use it in simple main meals.
For somewhat novice cooks, keeping flavors familiar at first will help you relax and enjoy experimenting with herbs and spices. Easy recipes incorporating different flavors are available online and in cook books everywhere. Following these recipes will help guarantee your culinary success.