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Crafting Herb, Spice Blends Will Save Bucks, Please Your Palate

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There is a profusion of premixed herb, spice and seasoning blends out there, and it’s sometimes hard to choose just the blend you want.

We suggest making your own, for several reasons:

Put together your own spice mixes for specific ethnic cuisines, barbecue rubs, salad seasonings and more.

•  The cost will be much less.
•  You can fine-tune the blend to your taste.
•  The blend won’t have any filler in it or a lot of added salt or sugar – which is something you end up paying for with many commercial blends.
•  You can mix in small batches, so that the spices don’t lose flavor by sitting around on your spice shelf for long periods of time.
•  Spice and herb blends are easy to do, and make good gifts. Check out craft stores, art shops, etc., for packaging ideas, or use your imagination and make your own.

With no further ado, here are a few that we like.  Use them as they are, or start customizing!

Lavender, a good addition to a summery herb blend. (Photo courtesy Becker Vineyards)

Herbes de Provence

This is a fine-tuned blend, from the South of France, that alternates stronger herbal flavors with lighter.

It adds a wonderful, summery flavor to casseroles, game or poultry — even steaks. Also, add some fresh parsley to a couple of pinches of this as a dry blend, and whip it into the eggs for an omelet. Fold a little crème fraîche into the omelet just before you serve it.

This blend calls for dried herbs, but not ground (except for bay leaf). If you don’t want to grind the bay leaf, you could put a small, whole leaf into each blend, but not add the whole, dried leaf to food. (The edges are sharp, unless you grind it down some.) You can also make this blend with fresh herbs, if you have the herbs on hand. We don’t suggest mixing fresh and dried, though.

4 teaspoons dried leaf thyme
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2/3 teaspoon culinary lavender flowers
½ teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon lightly ground white pepper
1 crushed bay leaf (take leaves off dried stem, and grind in a mortar)

Mix together the herbs. For using, 2-3 teaspoons is sufficient in a recipe for three-to-four people.

Adapted from “The Spice Bible; A Cook’s Guide” by Ian Hemphill

Fines Herbes

This “delicately balanced bouquet of finely flavored herbs … is found in French cuisine,” writes Ian Hemphill in “The Spice and Herb Bible.” This recipe may be made with fresh or dried herbs.

Flat-leaf parsley

Here’s a sidelight I found amusing. In my vintage (1961) edition of the English translation of the French culinary bible, “Larousse Gastronomique”, the entry for fines herbes is typically terse. However, the writer also allows himself (and, surely, it was a “him”) a little crabby comment to chefs of the time.

“Generally speaking, this term is used not of mixed herbs, but simply of chopped parsley. Therefore an Omelette aux Fines Herbes is an omelette containing only parsley, in addition to the usual seasonings.” (Probably a reference to salt and white pepper.)

The writer goes on: “Actually, fines herbes should be a mixture of herbs, such as parsley, chervil, tarragon and even chives. Indeed, this was the original meaning of the term. In earlier times chopped mushroom and even truffles were added to the list of herbs above.”

We give our firm approval to adding truffles to a fines herbes mix!

Hemphill’s recipe follows. In addition to the herbs mentioned above, he adds green dill tips and lovage. While the Hemphill doesn’t add chives, fresh chives would be fine, and it is included in this slight adaptation. Again, if you wish to make this blend with all dried herbs, it’s fine.

Fines Herbes (for fresh or dried herbs)

2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon chervil
1 tablespoon lovage
2 teaspoons green dill tips
2 teaspoons French tarragon
2 teaspoons minced chives

This blend goes well with any egg dish, and is also wonderful in a creamy salad dressing, blended with a half cup each of mayonnaise and heavy cream.

Adapted from “The Spice Bible” by Ian Hemphill.

Texas Herb Rub

Lamb, beef, pork -- all will taste better rubbed with spices!

Here’s an herbal rub with a Texas twist, from Tom Perini. Put it on meat (of course).

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

Combine all the ingredients and rub over the surface of the meat.

From “Texas Cowboy Cooking” by Tom Perini

Wild Willy’s Number One-derful Rub

This is a good, all-purpose barbecue rub, from Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s “Smoke & Spice.” Use it on ribs, brisket, chicken and more.

¾ cup paprika
¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup coarse kosher or sea salt
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons cayenne

Mix spices thoroughly in a bowl. Store covered, in a cool, dark place. Makes about 2 cups.

Tunisian Tabil Rub

This is a spice mix that’s become somewhat trendy in the U.S. in the past few years.  The  aromatic, spicy blend known as tabil is generally used with lamb and imparts a pungency that will give your barbecue an exotic flavor. Tone down the hot spice (hot pepper flakes) if you need to do so.

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons coarse (kosher or sea) salt

Combine the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds in a dry skillet and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan to ensure even cooking, until toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Place the mixture in a mortar and grind to a fine powder with the pestle, or use a spice mill. Store in an airtight jar away from heat and light for up to 6 months. Makes about ½ cup, or enough for 3-4 pounds of meat, poultry or seafood.

From “The Barbecue Bible” by Steven Raichlen

John Griffin contributed to this article.



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6 Responses to “Crafting Herb, Spice Blends Will Save Bucks, Please Your Palate”

  1. Thanks Bonnie and John! This is an awesome list, I’ll have a lot of fun!

    Is there a better way to store everything?

  2. Would it be enough if I put it in a bag and tie the top tightly with ribbon??

  3. lemurleaf says:

    I’m wondering if you could substitute a bit of ground clove for the ground bay leaf. They are surprisingly similar, as I found to my sorrow at one time when I absent-mindedly left the bay leaf in some soup I subsequently pureed. It tasted like I had put waaaay too much clove in it.

    • Hey, that’s really a cute froggie! I’m impressed that you noticed a difference between bay leaf and clove. Allspice, too, kind has that taste. Why not put in the clove? It’ll still be good. Bay leave is troublesome that way. Why recipes always say (if they are good) ‘take the bay leaf out’. Good luck! Thanks for commenting. BW