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Master Food Preservers: Spice it up

By From page B12 | January 25, 2012

A low-fat diet sure sounded like a good idea on Jan. 1, but now that a couple of weeks have passed, many with the best of intentions find this resolution to be getting tougher to stick with.

Do not despair. Spices and herbs invigorate foods left bland by the elimination of oils and fats and transform simple ingredients into cosmopolitan delights.

Both spices and herbs find a home in the kitchen of today, but how do these differ from each other?

The leaf of a plant yields an herb, and any other part used to flavor food may be called a spice. Every rule comes with an exception, though, so some bulbs and roots, such as garlic, fennel and coriander, fall into the herb category.

Used since before written history, herbs have traditionally played a major role in healing, not flavoring. However, the pungent flavors surely enlivened many prehistoric dishes, perhaps giving rise to the saying that “food is medicine.”

Many people throughout time have grown herbs for a variety of uses. Just picked herbs from a kitchen garden often provide the crowning touch to a delicious entrée.

As a general rule of thumb, fresh herbs should be picked shortly before using, and usually are added to the food toward the end of the cooking time.

Heartier herbs may be cooked longer, though not more than 20 minutes or so, unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

Although fresh herbs and spices give a delicious boost to foods, drying these flavorful additions results in convenient storage and enables cooks to spice up the food no matter the season.

Proper storage preserves the taste and color of dried herbs. Remember that heat, light and moisture will damage dried or dehydrated foods, so store dried herbs and spices safely. Most ground, dried spices and herbs will keep in optimal condition for a year, while whole spices may last up to two years.

Try not to shake spice containers directly over a hot dish or boiling pot; moisture may enter the spice container and affect the storage time.

This recipe, from the West Virginia University Extension Service, combines several types of herbs and spices to create a flavorful salad or vegetable dressing without added oil.

3/4-cup tomato juice 2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons instant minced onion

1 tablespoon basil leaves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin seed

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup.

For questions about safe home food preservation or to schedule a speaker for organizations or clubs on the topics of food safety or food preservation call the Master Food Preservers at 530-621-5506.

For more information, be sure to go to the Master Food Preserver Website at cecentralsierra.ucanr.org/Master_Food_Preservers/. Sign up to receive the Master Food Preservers E-Newsletter at ucanr.org/mfpenews/.

Ora Emmerich

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