by Susan Doyle


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Fresh basil is best for pesto and salads, but dried basil is
excellent for slow-cooked dishes,
such as stews and casseroles, says Ian Hemphill, author of "The Spice
and Herb Bible."

DRIED BASIL also is a staple for Italian foods, such as tomato sauces
and soups, as well as pizza and garlic bread.

Bay leaves add a complex, earthy flavor to chicken soup, tomato and
seafood dishes. It's also the
secret ingredient for French bouquets garnis, Indian garam masala,
many Italian and Turkish
recipes, and even a good bloody Mary mix. Buy the leaves whole to
simmer and remove, or grind them to a powder as needed.

Every good cook needs at least one jar of pure chili powder or
flakes. Cayenne and red pepper
flakes are the most popular. Chili adds kick to any dish, whether the
cuisine is Mexican, Thai,
Korean, Indian, Tex-Mex or North African.

More kitchen spice essentials

This blend of chili, garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, paprika and other
ingredients is great for
seasoning tacos, bean chili, fajitas, meat, steak and many other
Southwestern and Mexican

Sweet cinnamon is essential for American baking, but also makes an
appearance in almost every
region of Asian cuisine, Indian curries and masalas, Moroccan
tagines, Mexican chocolate, tea
blends, and as an accent in Cajun dishes.

Powerful cassia cinnamon is the preferred version in America. Seek
out true "vera" cinnamon for a
more delicate, sweet seasoning. Vietnamese cinnamon offers intense

This potent American cookie and pastry spice crosses as many borders
as cinnamon. Cloves appear in many spice blends, including curry and
masalas, Chinese five-spice powder, and
those used for mulling, tagines, chai and pickling.

Take a hint from the French and simmer half an onion stuffed with
cloves in meat
stews or soups, suggests Aliza Green, author of "Field Guide to Herbs
& Spices." Remove before
serving for a subtle clove flavor.

Cumin is a crucial savory spice for Mexican, Tex-Mex, Indian, Middle
Eastern, Indonesian and North African cooking, says Amanda Bevill,
owner of World Spice Merchants in Seattle.
The seeds can be used whole to infuse rice dishes and breads or
ground for stews and chili.

True Indian cooks prefer to create their own blends of spices for
curry, but prepared blends have
become a staple for Westerners looking to replicate Indian dishes. It
provides instant flavor and
brilliant color to rice, stews, sauteed onions, and, of course,
curries. This blend often includes coriander, cumin, chili,
turmeric, ginger and mustard, as well as sweeter spices such as
fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Blends vary widely
according to region, dish or manufacturer.

This rhizome provides warmth to American baking recipes, Asian stir-
Jamaican jerk, barbecue
blends, and Indian curry and tandoori mixes. Dried ginger is much
more pungent
and hot than minced
or grated fresh ginger, which has a milder, almost lemony flavor.

Just a bit of freshly grated nutmeg complements almost any recipe in
which cinnamon also is used.It provides complex, sweet vanilla like
undertones to baked goods and ethnic cuisines. It's best to buy
nutmeg whole, then grate as needed.

Oregano and marjoram are used widely in Mediterranean and European
cuisine. Pungent oregano is a critical ingredient in southern Italian
and American recipes, such as pizza,
pasta, meatloaf and roasts.

Sweet, mild variation of oregano — is popular in subtler French
cuisine including
stuffing, poultry, egg, fish, and vegetable dishes.

This mild, bright red chili pepper comes in numerous varieties. The
classic sweet Hungarian
paprika is a central ingredient in goulash and an accent for tuna
salad and deviled eggs. It also
plays a pivotal role in Mexican, Cajun, Middle Eastern and Moroccan
cuisine. Try smoked paprika to add deep, savory notes to your cooking.

This savory, resinous herb is used in European and American cuisines.
It goes well with many types of meat, including game, poultry, and
lamb; poultry stuffing; potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and squash;
zucchini and eggplant; and quick breads. Dried rosemary needs long
cooking in liquid or baked goods to soften.

While thyme does not have the same cross-cultural range as other
herbs and spices, it still plays
an important roll in traditional French, Italian and American dishes.
It's a critical ingredient in bouquet garni, herbes de Provence and
Italian blends for use in meat rubs, roasts, poultry and
stuffing, tomato-based dishes, soups, stews and potatoes.


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This page was updated April 24, 2008