I was the host of the daring cooks April challenge and I chose to challenge everyone to make their own herb and spice blend
Spice blends are a great way to spruce up your everyday cooking, transforming dishes from regular and boring to new and interesting. Why have the same grilled chicken every time when you can have a new, mouthwatering experience with just a few pinches of spices and herbs. Added to that, if you happen to like venturing into international cuisines, spice blends can be your ticket to making authentic meals in the comfort of your own home.
Why make it when I can buy it?
Sure! You can buy ready-made spice blends, it is easy and convenient. I used to do it all the time when I first started cooking on my own but there were problems that came with easy and convenient:
- The store-bought blends were expensive.
- I didn’t always like all the spices that went into a blend or at certain times, I didn’t like the proportions of the different spices .
- Most blends on the market are loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors and colors.
- Different labels made markedly different blends, if I couldn’t find my favorite taco seasoning, trying a new one from a different label often turned out to be an unpleasant adventure.
With time, I gained experience and confidence in the kitchen and with that came more knowledge about herbs and spices. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to make my own blends. When I eventually worked up the courage to do it, it turned out to be much easier than what I thought it would be and it comes with quite a few advantages:
- Making your own spice blends is fun and easy (and very good for your inner chef’s ego)
- It saves money
- There is no added nonsense (additives, food coloring agents and preservatives)in homemade blends.
- You can make your own spice blends just the way you like them, every single time
- You can make the exact amount that you need. A little for one time use, or a lot for a favorite recipe that you make often.
- Homemade spice blends make great gifts
All you need is a few herbs and spices, measuring cups and spoons and you’re good to go!
But before we can dive into the different recipes, I would like to cover a few basics regarding drying herbs as we will need dried herbs in a number of our spice blends and if you happen to grow your own herbs and your plants are going wild in the summer, drying the herbs is a great way to store that summer goodness for later use.
Harvest. For the most flavor, cut herbs in mid-morning, right after the morning dew has dried before newly developed essential oils have been burned off by the sun. Cut healthy herbs, removing any sickly, dried or wilted leaves and brushing away insects. If you must rinse the herbs, pat dry carefully afterward.
I use two ways to dry herbs: Air drying and dehydration in the oven or dehydrator.
Air-drying works best for low-moisture herbs like marjoram, oregano, rosemary and dill. Herbs like basil, chives and mint contain more moisture and it’s best to dry them in a dehydrator or oven.
- Gather 5-10 branches together and tie with string or a rubber band. The smaller the bundle, the easier and faster they will dry.
- Put the bundle of herbs, stem-side up, in a paper bag. Tie the end of the bag closed, being sure not to crush the herbs as you do, and poke a few holes in the bag for ventilation.
This step is optional, the paper bag helps catch any fallen leaves and it keeps dust from getting to your herbs.
- Hang the bag by the stem end in a warm, well-ventilated room.
Your herbs may be dried and ready to store in as little as one week.
- Place herb leaves on a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet .
- Heat your oven to 180 C. Turn it off
- Place the herbs in the oven and close it
- Leave the herbs in the oven until it cools down completely
- To see if the herbs are dry, check if leaves crumble easily.
Oven-dried herbs will cook a little, removing some of the potency and flavor, so you may need to use a little more of them in cooking.
In the upcoming posts I will be sharing my recipes for:
Italian spice mix
Zaatar and Dukkah recipes
Arabic seven spice blend
Apple pie spice blend
and many more, do stay tuned