Why have a herb & spice rack if you dont use it?
April 18, 2011 10:52 AM   Subscribe

My herb and spice rack never gets used. I would like to use them all up this year, if not I will probably throw them away. Since I don't have a chef's instinct, I don't know what foods they are best used for, or probably more importantly, what foods they wont work well with.

My list of spices:
Dill Weed
Italian Seasoning
Caraway Seed
Mustard Seed
Crushed Mint
Celery Salt
Bay Leaves
posted by chrisdab to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If they are older than about 6 months, then they have lost their potency and you might as well throw them out and start over.
posted by TheBones at 10:58 AM on April 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oregeno goes well with pretty much anything (non-sweet), especially Mexican or Italian types of dishes. Dill and mint are wonderful on lamb.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 10:58 AM on April 18, 2011

I use parsley on chicken all the time as a finishing spice.

And agreed about the six month rule!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:07 AM on April 18, 2011

Just start cooking. What you have there is a basic set of the most commonly used herbs and spices, so any good cookbook is going to use most of them. Get The Joy of Cooking or Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything and go to town. Do you not cook regularly now?
posted by something something at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2011

If they are older than about 6 months, then they have lost some of their potency and you should increase the amounts used compared to what the recipe calls for.

If they are older than 2-3 years, then they have lost most or all of their potency and you might as well thrown them out and start over.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I like rosemary with turkey. I see carroway used a lot of Irish dishes. Mint is delicious in chicken salad. Saute dill/lemon juice & zest/butter/flaked salmon, and pour it over noodles for a quick and easy meal.
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2011

If they are older than about 6 months, then they have lost their potency and you might as well throw them out and start over.

Well, if they've been tightly sealed and are not kept, for example, right over the stove then you might want to taste them/smell them before tossing them. In my experience, it's more that complexity and flavor start to trail off after six months or so than that they vanish. Depending on the spice, the usable life may be longer.

Bay leaves, rosemary and thyme go well in soups and stews. Bay leaves are also great to add to beans as you're cooking them.

My suggestion would be to get fresh herbs and keep them in the freezer--they last much longer and taste better.
posted by Frowner at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they're over a year old, they may not be worth using. I always throw away any ground herbs after I've had them a year, because the new fresh ones taste better. (Throwing them away after six months is overkill, considering that the new crops come in only once a year.) Sometimes old spices don't just lack flavor, but have a nasty new flavor of their own, such as the oddly bitter old powdered ginger I tried to use once at my parents' house.

I like to put dried dill weed into creamed salmon, homemade breads or biscuits, and pasta salad or cucumber salad.

Italian seasoning is the way to turn canned tomatoes into sauce for spaghetti, lasagna, or pizza.

Caraway seeds are good in cabbage, sauerkraut, and rye breads and buns.

Oregano is in the Italian seasoning. It's good in chili, enchilada sauce, and pizza sauce.

Grind the mustard seed in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder and add a little water to make a sharp mustard sauce for Chinese dumplings, or a sandwich spread; unlike the others, whole mustard seeds are probably still fresh. Powdered mustard won't be.

Rosemary is good rubbed on lamb with garlic, or included with other Italian seasonings. Rosemary chicken with olive oil is good.

Coriander seed is a good ingredient in curry. Coriander leaf, also known as cilantro, loses all flavor when dried.

Dried crushed mint you could use to make peppermint tea. Fresh mint is nice in lemonade.

Celery seed is good in beef stews. Don't add other salt to the recipe if you're using celery salt.

Good thyme is indispensable in red beans and rice, but bad grocery store thyme often smells of mold.

Basil is great in tomato sauces.

Try adding a bay leaf to the water when you cook rice. It adds a nice flavor. Or add one leaf to any kind of soup or stew.

Marjoram is another one of the herbs in Italian seasoning mixes.

Dried parsley is pretty much useless; that's an herb that's cheap to buy fresh and is really much better that way.
posted by Ery at 11:11 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dill weed you can mix with cream cheese and spread on bagels. I bet caraway seed would be good used for that.

Tomatoes go with Italian seasoning, oregano basil, bay, marjoram, parsley, basil
Potatoes and chicken work well with rosemary, thyme
Celery salt is good in potato salad
Dill works with fish

But if you want to chuck it, chuck it. TheBones is right about the potency, anyway, and if you're not into pursuing it you could just throw it all out and mark an item off your to-do list.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:12 AM on April 18, 2011

Celery salt is good in an amazing number of things. I add it to bbq dishes, roast chicken, and soups. Last weekend I added it to some brussel sprouts with very good results.

Rosemary, Marjoram and Thyme are good chicken spices

coriander is good in pork dishes

add a bay leaf or two to anything you are slow cooking or anything that creates a sauce.

basil is good in any tomato based dish.

Italian seasoning can be an all purpose seasoning for hearty soups or stews, chicken, or pork.

dill is great on salmon or in potatoes.

rosemary is good with potatoes too.

Just start experimenting. Smell the spice and try to imagine it paired with whatever dish you've begun. If it smells appealing, it will probably pair well.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:15 AM on April 18, 2011

Put the caraway seeds in Irish soda bread.
posted by jgirl at 11:15 AM on April 18, 2011

This shrimp salad uses a lot of dill weed.
posted by francesca too at 11:16 AM on April 18, 2011

Here is an excellent post on The Kitchn (food blog/community) regarding the common uses of most the familiar (and some unfamiliar) spices and herbs: A Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice In the Cupboard.

The best way to cultivate a cook's instincts is to start cooking by recipes, in my opinion. You get a foundation for what tastes good together, and then you can start improvising from that. Have fun! Cooking for yourself (and eventually for others!) can be incredibly rewarding.
posted by dorothy humbird at 11:20 AM on April 18, 2011

Italian seasoning is good for flavoring artichokes during cooking, along with wine vinegar and olive oil, or in a marinade for London broil. I like pork loin roast coated liberally with caraway seed and fresh garlic. Bay leaves are essential in many soups, like split pea, and stews. Basil appeares in many Italian recipes.
posted by path at 11:25 AM on April 18, 2011

Celery salt is good in an amazing number of things.

Vegetable soups, Chicago-style hotdogs, etc.

For the crushed mint, add to yogurt with cucumber and olive oil for tzatziki, or go with something else from the Mediterranean.

The caraway seed is likely to retain its potency longer than the dried-leaf herbs: toast it a wee bit and make biscuits/cookies.
posted by holgate at 11:32 AM on April 18, 2011

This is a fun way to get you better at cooking. I'm sure keeping old dried herbs around doesn't result in the most delicious possible dish, but I do it and I still get tasty food out of them.

I like tossing in a variety of dried herbs when I saute garlic in olive oil for use as a pasta sauce (usually with other fresh or frozen vegetables sauteed along with them - this doesn't involve tomatoes). From your list, I would use any combination of these for that purpose: Italian Seasoning, Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Marjoram, Parsley. Add some fresh squeezed lemon juice and parmesan cheese at the end for a tasty dish.

I hate dill in most contexts, but it comes in handy if you want to make eastern European soups, like this Hungarian mushroom soup, or some sort of borscht.
posted by wondermouse at 11:44 AM on April 18, 2011

Fast and off the cuff
Dill Weed Fish, Lamb, white sauces, asparagus, green beans. A white sauce is generally a bechemel or velute based sauce where dairy is a featured component.
Italian Seasoning Generally a 'safe' mix of Oregano, Basil, Sage, Thyme and Savory - basically this is an italian season-all. Balsamic glazed chicken? Use it. Pasta sauce? Use it. Meatballs? Use it. Pizza Sauce? Use it. Get it?
Caraway Seed - Corned beef, breads, grind for chili, coleslaw dressing
Oregano - Tops pizza. See Italian Seasoning... Not a favorite spice of mine to use straight unless it is fresh.
Mustard Seed - grind it, pickle with it, corned beef with it. If you grind it - worcestershire + garlic + onion + Italian Seasoning + Rosemary + oil is a pretty decent marinade for steaks 8 hours in advance. (also S&P)
Rosemary - Strong flavor, hard when dried. Get a grinder or mortar and pestle. Keep this to hearty meats and use either in extremely small proportion with other spices OR use it as the only spice (Rosemary overpowers easily)
Savory - veggies principally. Go with a mix of this, sage, cumin and thyme and you'll have something pretty tasty.
Coriander - Coriander is pretty excellent. If you've got it whole, you need to grind it and sift out the shell. If you have it ground already, then you're talking one of my favorite spices. Push Indian, Mexican, and Thai cuisines. This has sort of a round sweet mouthfeel. Coriander is also great for pickling (Looking at your spice collection I would think you were into pickling btw). Combine this with Cumin, chili powde, mustard and breadcrumbs for a decent crust for a rack of lamb or oven-prepped steak (in the winter).
Crushed Mint - deserts as an extract, in a simple syrup... eh... but really I don't think I've ever used crushed mint. I use it infrequently enough that I'll pretty much just use fresh.
Celery Salt - increasing your sodium. This is for marinades. I'd generally say don't by celery salts and instead by celery seeds but ... we're a spice cabinet late on that now aren't we... marinades... its hearty, it will overpower easy, and if you need to tenderize a piece of meat salt is one way to do it (although you'll also yank out ... ah - nevermind - just look up how to do a brine and substitute this in for a portion of the salt.
Thyme - See italian spice, but expand. Mix with the dill when you make a white sauce. Fish, Chicken, Steak... pretty much this shold go in almost everything. Yes, there are inappropriate uses. I'm not listing by exclusion.
Basil Gah! get a plant - don't buy this dry stuff. See italian seasoning. Use this sparingly in dry form as well... dry basil tastes dry.
Bay Leaves - put a bay leaf in any time you boil water. Mashed potatoes? Salt the water add a bayleaf. Soup? Add two. Stew? Add two. If there is liquid in the pot, put in a bayleaf.
Marjoram - Really I haven't much of a clue how to use this stuff up quickly. This goes on my turkey at Thanksgiving.
Parsley - if you had sprgs of curly, it would belong as a roadside clamshack garnish. Dried? Even the clamshacks won't use it. Only trick? Use when you use coriander at near completion for the appearance of cilantro if you don't have cilantro. (Coriander Seeds are the seeds from the cilantro plant.)

Anyway. Dried herbs are a bit rough. Add them early in most cases and let them cook to soften up (Dried Rosemary does not really soften.).

But with that list? Pickle, pickle, pickle pickle.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

You can put oregano into scrambled eggs. You can boil the parsley and bay leaves with any type of beef and throw in some potatoes and carrots and you've got a pretty good stew.
posted by creasy boy at 11:55 AM on April 18, 2011

BTW dried basil really is pretty much useless, at least for anything I've thrown it into. I wouldn't buy it again. Same with dried cilantro, in case you're ever tempted to buy that. I've used dried mint somewhat successfully in raita. If you let it sit in the yogurt long enough the texture becomes palatable, and it still has a minty flavor, so you can use it as a sauce on some sort of Indian-type lentil dish or put it on lamb meatballs or something.
posted by wondermouse at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2011

Agreeing that dried leafy herbs more than a year old may not be worth saving, and might not provide a lot of flavor if used. And with those who say dried parsley and coriander leaf are useless to begin with.

The coriander, if it's ground coriander seed and not leaf (that is, a brown powder, and not the dried little leaves) might still be worthwhile and if faded ground coriander can be re-energized by carefully heating in a dry skillet (the careful part is getting an aroma but not burning it) before use.
posted by aught at 12:35 PM on April 18, 2011

Before just tossing everything out, and before you start pouring them all over some expensive piece of meat, I would suggest the following: take a pinch of each, and eat it. Does it taste good? spicy? flavorful? Then keep it and see if it makes you think of anything in particular -- fish, lamb, chicken, vegetables, bread, etc? Or maybe use that as a springboard for a recipe. If you taste it and it tastes like dust, dirt, tea, paper...then maybe pour it out and see if you can get some value from the jar or canister. Or maybe put it in a spice grinder and give it a whirl and see if you might be able to unlock a bit of flavor? Before you just toss everything out, now is your chance to just F around with these things. Maybe give something a grind and mix it in with some oil or water or some other base to make a sauce or spread. Just go crazy. If all else fails, then toss 'em.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 1:15 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are some really good answers on this post. If you're looking for something a bit more comprehensive, i'd check out The Flavor Bible from your local library. I suggest borrowing it instead of buying because it's more of a reference book. Borrow it for a week and just look up the dishes or components you cook with the most. This will give you some really good complimentary spice selections to use.

It's not the kind of book i find myself referencing constantly, but pouring over it every couple months has lead to some really good flavor combinations in my day-to-day cooking.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2011

I'm partial to what I call the Simon and Garfunkel mix on poultry - parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Celery salt alone on chicken breast is great too.

Experiment, really. And I might be a miser but I have not thrown out spices unless I have a darn good reason to. I know old might be crappy, but some part of me can't handle paying $$$ for a bottle of dried leaves and then reconcile myself to throwing it away because it's over a year old. It's still dried leaves. It still has SOME flavor...
posted by caution live frogs at 2:26 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dill is awesome in potato salad. My potato salad recipe: boiled and halved baby potatoes, quartered boiled eggs, diced red onion, mayonnaise, chopped gherkins, seeded mustard, salt and pepper, and a generous sprinkling of dill (admittedly I do use it fresh idill f I have it, but dried is still super-tasty).

Caraway seeds are delicious with sautéed cabbage. Sauté some sliced onions with butter and caraway seeds, then add handfuls of shredded cabbage. Cook until translucent and wilted, and season with salt and pepper. So good.

Add a couple of bay leaves to any red meat or tomato-based sauce or casserole, including bolognese sauce. Recipes often call for one or two leaves, but I always double the number if I'm using dried ones. (Don't forget to remove them before serving.)
posted by hot soup girl at 3:03 PM on April 18, 2011

If you're looking for something a bit more comprehensive, i'd check out The Flavor Bible from your local library. I suggest borrowing it instead of buying because it's more of a reference book.

Nthing the recommendation for the Flavor Bible, but I bought it (rather than checking it out) specifically because it's a reference book. It's not the kind of book I sit down and read through, it's the kind of book I grab off the shelf, look up an ingredient or two, then put back — but I do that three or four times a week, at least.

It's also useful for farmers' market or CSA produce: "I've got this, now what do I do with it?"

Regarding how long spices stay good, this is the advice from Penzeys Spices:
A good guideline is to buy a one year’s supply of herbs or ground spices, and a one to two year supply of whole spices. The government’s guideline for freshness dating is four years for whole spices and two years for ground. Some people say six months is the longest spices should be stored, but most spices are harvested only once a year, so it does not make sense to discard them every six months. On the other hand, two years is too long to store finely powdered spices. Each spice contains hundreds of flavor components. It is the quantity and balance of these components that determines the quality of the spice. These flavor components will dissipate at different rates. A top quality spice may be better at two years old than a low quality spice at two months. When in doubt about a spice, just smell it. If it smells strong and spicy, use it. If not, toss it.
posted by Lexica at 6:27 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Pertinent mefi project: RecipePuppy.
posted by jayCampbell at 7:49 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chow has good ingredient articles—see links below. In particular, note the "Food Affinities" section at the bottom of each article. (I still haven't figured out whether there's an index or search page for these; I just find them via Google.)

caraway seed
mustard seed
celery seed/salt
bay leaf

With the exception of oregano, basil, and rosemary, herbs don't dry well at all—they lose almost all of their flavor. You can go ahead and throw away the mint, thyme, and parsley—they weren't any good when you bought them, and they aren't any better now.

Gotta run now—I'll try to post my own recommendations later if I have time.
posted by ixohoxi at 2:03 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, so:

I should have told you to throw away the dill, too. Dried dill seeds can be useful. Dried dill weed, not so much. But if you want to use it anyway, it gets along with cheese, potatoes, beets, fish, and eggs. Put a fish filet (such as tilapia) in a pan; brush with olive oil or butter; sprinkle with fresh lemon juice, dill, and maybe some cracked black pepper; stick in a 375°F-ish oven until tender (about 10 minutes).

Italian seasoning: sprinkle on carryout pizza, or mix it in with a jarred pasta sauce that needs a little extra kick. Make an Italian dressing by whisking together 3 parts olive oil with 1 part vinegar (red wine or balsamic), plus salt and Italian seasoning to taste, and a tiny amount of Dijon mustard (as an emulsifier, not for flavor).

Oregano: Italian and Greek, of course. Buy some halloumi cheese (it's Greek, and spendy—but oh so amazingly delicious); grill it until browned (in a cast-iron skillet, or on an actual grill); drizzle with olive oil and oregano; serve with Kalamata olives. Or make homemade tomato sauce (using canned tomatoes, or fresh garden tomatoes if you can get them—"fresh" tomatoes from the supermarket are terrible). It's easier than you think, and very tasty. Serve on pasta or polenta.

Mustard seed: I've mostly used it in Indian dishes (along with other spices). Many, many Indian recipes start by quickly toasting or frying seed spices (mustard, coriander, cardamom, etc.) in a skillet before adding other ingredients.

Potatoes are the go-to partner for rosemary. Dice potatoes; toss in a heavy oven-safe dish with salt, pepper, rosemary, and a glug of olive oil; roast at 450°F until browned. (This will be anywhere from 25–40 minutes, depending on the potato and the size of the dice.) It also works well with chicken.

Savory is practically synonymous with beans. You'll find no shortage of bean soup recipes that call for savory.

Bay leaf is underappreciated, at least among non-food-nerds. It's a subtle flavor—it doesn't announce "HEY THERE, I'm BAY LEAF!" the way more assertive spices do—but it's crucial to the flavor structure of many classic dishes. Macaroni and cheese, pot pie, soups. Sometimes I'll punch up a pot of plain rice by boiling it in this stuff instead of water, with a pat of butter, a grind of pepper, and a bay leaf. I also sometimes throw a bay leaf in the skillet for my veggie tacos (along with onion, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and sometimes garlic). Remove the bay leaf from the dish before serving—you're not supposed to eat it.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:52 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

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