Shake up the menu with herbs and spices

Culinary herbs create imaginative flavors when used skillfully, but they can also provide creative, tasteful alternates to other seasonings such as salt and pepper. A good general rule is not to mix two very strong herbs together. One strong and one with a milder flavor will create the most harmonious blends.

When it comes to food, the milder the flavor of the main food in the dish or recipe, the lower the level of added seasoning required to achieve a satisfactory balance of flavor.

Dried herbs are stronger than fresh and powdered herbs are stronger than crumbled. A useful formula is one-quarter teaspoon powdered herbs equals one-quarter to 1 teaspoon crumbled equals 2 teaspoons fresh.

Here are some tips on flavors.

Strong flavors: These should be used with care -- about 1 teaspoon for 6 servings of a recipe, since the flavors stand out. These include bay leaf, cardamom, curry, ginger, hot peppers, mustard, black pepper, rosemary, and sage.

Medium flavors: A moderate amount of these is recommended -- 1 to 2 teaspoons for 6 servings. They include basil, celery seed and leaves, cumin, dill, fennel, French tarragon, garlic, marjoram, mint, oregano, winter and summer savory, thyme, and turmeric.

Delicate flavors: These may be used in large quantities and combine well with most other herbs and spices. This group includes burnet, plants in the rose family, chervil, chives, and parsley.

Here are some other options -- herb blends that can be placed in the saltcellar instead of salt.

Herb blend: 2 teaspoons garlic powder; 1 teaspoon each basil and oregano; powdered lemon rind or dehydrated lemon juice.

Combine in blender or coffee grinder and mix well. Store in glass container, label, and add rice to prevent caking.

Pungent herb blend: 3 teaspoons basil; 2 teaspoons each summer savory, celery seed, ground cumin seed, sage, and marjoram, 1 teaspoon lemon rind. Mix well and pulverize.

Spicy herb blend: 1 teaspoon each cloves, pepper, crushed coriander seed; 2 teaspoons paprika; 1 teaspoon rosemary. Mix ingredients in blender or grinder. Store in airtight container.

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