What is food without its myriad flavours? Just a handful of ingredients are enough to transform a dish into something extraordinary. And herbs are the most convenient flavour boosters. Sprinkle some in your pasta, salads, sautéed vegetables, curries, fried rice and even dips and sauces, and they can lend that instant zing. The fresh versions are no doubt most sought after for their distinctive flavours, but their dried versions too serve the purpose, especially when the fresh ones are not readily available. And that's not all. You can also use them to make flavoured oils!
So when you are stocking up your kitchen cupboard, make sure you get your hands on a range of dried herbs that you can sprinkle into your food every given chance. Here's our list of must-have dried herbs -
Most of us can't imagine biting into our favourite slice of pizza without sprinkling some oregano on it. This is possibly the one herb you do have, and the one that you must, especially if you love Italian food. The bitter and lemony flavour of the herb makes it blend well in pasta sauces, salads and pizzas. It is extensively used in Mediterranean cuisine, and the good part is that it doesn't overpower the other flavours in a dish. You can use it in your everyday cooking by adding it to toasts, sandwiches and even quick stir-fries.
A relative of oregano, thyme too is used extensively in cooking while preparing soups and meat-based dishes. Its pungent minty flavour works wonders in stir-fries and baked pies as well. It is a key ingredient in the popular Middle East condiment called za'atar. It is readily available in the market and can easily be stored for six months.
Thinking of making a roast lamb? It is almost incomplete without adding rosemary into the baking tray. It wouldn't be wrong to say that rosemary and lamb is a match made in heaven. Roasted potatoes and pumpkin also pair very well with rosemary. You can use the herb in more ways than roasts - add it to your hung curd dip, in sandwiches, as crust for pan-seared fish, or even as a skewer while making kebabs if you can get hold of the entire sprig.
Sage is a herb which is commonly used in Italian cuisine while making the butter sauce for gnocchi. Its strong flavour, which is slightly bitter, doesn't lose out on its power when used in cooking, and as such is added while making stews or other slow-cooked dishes. It pairs well with fatty meats too. Try and add it while crisping your morning bacon. You can drop it into your boiling pot of soup, or sprinkle it in batters for deep-fried snacks as well. The more you experiment, the more you will discover.
It is a multi-purpose herb, no doubt about it. Its pungent flavour goes well with almost anything - pastas, stir-fries, sandwiches, soups - you name it! If you have guests over, you can spruce up your cream-based dips by adding parsley to it. Try sautéing it a little in butter to release the flavours and then add it to grilled chicken or steamed fish. You can also beat it with eggs to make a flavourful omelette.
A common herb in the Indian kitchen, mint is used in the making of many curries and shorbas. Since fresh mint is not always available, the dried version comes as a blessing. Sprinkle some in marinades, in butter to make a herbed spread, salads, sauteed mushrooms, raita, and on your morning toast for some zing. The pungent flavour of mint is strong, so use it wisely.
7. Kasoori Methi
Kasoori methi or fenugreek leaves have an incredible ability to instantly elevate the flavours in a dish. It is a common ingredient in Indian cooking, being credited for popular dishes like butter chicken and methi aloo. Even adding a spoonful of it to dal can make the humble dish taste divine. Sprinkle some while making everyday subzis or knead into the dough for rotis and parathas for a flavour boost.
The sweet and pungent basil is an essential herb in the kitchen because it can do wonders to a whole bunch of dishes. While cooking with dried basil, ensure that you use it in the beginning to allow it to develop its flavour. You can also slightly sauté it in butter and add it to salads and soups, or use it to make home-made tomato sauces for a quick pasta dish. Basil works wonderfully well in Thai cooking.
The summer French herb can be used in everyday cooking by getting your hands on the dried version. The sweet and almost vanilla flavoured herb pairs best with eggs, cheese, seafood, chicken and fruits, and is an important ingredient in French cooking. Use it while making baked dishes, pastas, vegetable au gratin, soups and grilled meats.
Say dill, and you immediately think of salmon. This delicate herb with its distinctive taste is an instant flavour booster. It teams well with fish, crunchy veggies, fruits and yoghurt-based dips. You can use it to make cheese omelettes, steamed fish, dumplings, sandwiches and more!
So it's time to stock up and lend in more flavours to everyday cooking.