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Spice it up: Flavor holiday dishes with natural seasonings


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Adding spices to holiday cooking can seem intimidating — such as knowing what and how much to use to get the taste you want.

But it doesn’t have to be, according to area chefs.

Commonly, people are unfamiliar with the herbs and spices they use, said chef James Gregory of Columbus.

“They don’t know what the herbs and spices taste like,” Gregory said. “You really need to taste things when you cook them.”

Having shied away from salt for two decades, Columbus resident Geri Handley looks for other ways to season her cooking.

“People are leery about using fresh herbs and spices,” Handley said. “My advice is to try it because they add so much flavor.”

Learning the true taste of herbs and spices requires using fresh ingredients.

When using dried herbs and spices, freshness is dependent on the age of what’s being used and how it has been stored, Gregory said.

5 tips from Chef James Gregory

1

The heartiness of an herb or spice will influence required cooking time — adjust accordingly so you don’t overcook and dissipate flavor. If needed, add at at the very end.

2

Store herbs and spices in a cool cupboard away from moisture and heat to preserve potency.

3

Learn the taste and scents of herbs and spices.

4

Dried vs. fresh. Using fresh or dried is a matter of the cook’s personal taste.

5

Renew. Herbs and spices should be replaced annually.

“Many people have their grandmother’s spices, and those are like fodder,” Gregory said.

If you haven’t purchased herbs and spices in more than a year, odds are what you have needs to be replaced.

Preserve the integrity of herbs and spices by storing them in a cool, dry place, Gregory recommends. It might be convenient to keep them next to the stove, but the heat can dry out the essential oils that give them their flavor.

Try to not get overzealous when cooking with herbs and spices, Chef Alexa Lemley of 240 Sweet and Lemley’s Catering cautions.

“Taste, season and taste again, then add more,” Lemley said. “You can’t take away, but you can always add more.”

Lemley recommends opting for fresh over dried herbs whenever possible; just remember to adapt the recipe accordingly.

“Use three tablespoons fresh for one tablespoon of dried herbs,” Lemley said.

When it comes to hearty herbs, a little goes a long way.

“Sage adds a great savory, or herbal flavor to poultry dishes,” Lemley said. “Nutmeg is the perfect sprinkle for eggnog and makes a delicious addition to roasted meats, but use both sparingly.”

As a rule, pungent herbs, such as sage and cloves, can be cooked longer than more delicate ones such as allspice, which should be added during the final few minutes, Gregory said.

Avoid the urge to add delicate herbs and spices too early, Gregory said.

“If you are cooking sauce or something for a long period of time, wait until the end to add herbs,” Handley said. “If you do add them at the start, use dried herbs because they cook better over a long period of time.”

Also, if you add fresh herbs early on, save a few leaves to chop and put on top of the dish to restore flavor before serving, recommends Gregory.

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