I have been cooking for forty years. I use a lot of spices and half the time when I do, I think about all the wars that have ensued because of them. As much as I hate war, I have to admit that when I open up my spice jars, I get it.
In my earliest days of cooking, I used way too much spice. I had to learn how to use each one and that has only come from years of experience. What I’ve learned is that you don’t need much. I’ve never used too much marjoram, but I’ve ruined dishes with too much rosemary, thyme and even basil.
Even after all these years, I still like to take a sniff when I open the jar, right before I spice. It tunes me into the art of spicing.
Another important aspect I’ve learned is that you don’t have to simmer spices to develop full flavor. I’ve cooked the flavor of spices out of my food, enough times to know… use a little and don’t cook it too long or it will dissipate.
And I always get the freshest spices I can and that means heading to my local natural foods store. I have my own little jars with tight fitting lids and I write the name of them with a black marker on the lid and on the jar.
And though I love fresh spices, another thing I’ve learned is that if I keep a spice in a small plastic bag, twist tied and then put into an air tight jar, it will keep for years. My first preference is for fresh spices, but I must confess that I have used spices as old as twenty years and they worked. They weren’t as potent so I used more.
Don’t be afraid to spice it up but the best tip I can give is start with a pinch until you get to know the spice and then you can use two, three or four pinches.
Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973