Cooking with Spices and Herbs

Cooking with spices and herbs has always been a main part of all my cooking. Since I started making cookies as a child, I loved adding cinnamon and ginger in my recipes. I loved the smell alone but the taste of these ingredients acquired a special place when I baked. Now all these years later I love to utilize all the different ones which are so readily available to us for use. Not one day goes by that I do not use at least one in my cooking; most of the time it is many.

Throughout Israel King Solomon sang about the stimulus of spices and Marco Polo wrote about them. The mightiest monarchs of Ancient Babylon prized them as highly as rare jewels. The search for seasonings for cooking changed the face of history. Efforts to obtain these priceless treasures caused wars, made countries and merchants wealthy and supported smugglers and dishonest customs officials in style.

In the 19th century Austria, salt mines were forbidden territory. They were only accessible to those who had a “salt pass”. This white mineral was so valuable to Kaiser. Now, seasonings for cooking from all parts of the world are found on our grocery shelves. These seasonings are parts of plants that usually grow in the tropics – like bark, leaves, seeds, stamens, shells, or any other aromatic part suitable for seasoning or preserving. For most part, the word spice covers the whole gamut of seasonings, herbs, seeds, vegetable seasonings, and blends.

When cooking with spices and herbs, the flavor should be full bodied and fresh; they do not improve with age. Exposure to air even for a brief time or standing over a long period of time even when not exposed cause deterioration in spices. There is no extravagance in renewing seasonings several times a year. These great seasonings are no longer considered a luxury to fine cooking but a necessity; no good chef will be without a large selection to choose from when cooking.

Herbs are always leaves of temperate – zone plants. Not only are rosemary and basil herbs, but so are such familiar favorites as parsley and mint. When cooking with spices and herbs, they should be chosen with care and used with discretion, so as not to overwhelm the dish. Crush and experiment a little to find which herbs suit your taste buds. Fresh herbs from the garden can be used in cooking as successfully as handy dried herbs. You just need to use less of the dried than the fresh.

The aroma of herbs, sometimes identify certain areas or even countries. Parisian cooking has the delightful smell of tarragon. Provence is famous for the combined aromas of thyme, lavender and garlic. Roman cooks use a lot of sage, and northern Italian cooks use basil. Many English foods have the smell of mint. Scandinavia is known for dill, and parsley is treated as a national plant in Germany. All these herbs can be smelled in the cooking throughout America.

An important step to fine cooking is the knowledge of the seasonings. A skillful use of them is the secret of distinctive flavoring in salads, sauces, meats and desserts. They will make a difference in all forms of cooking. Seasonings and herbs are perishable.  They should be used soon after purchasing them while their flavors are at their strongest and best.

Herbs tend to lose flavor a little faster than ground pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. We use herbs more generously than we do pungent seasonings. When properly stored, a few ounces of herbs in the average container retain good flavor almost indefinitely. this makes it safe to buy stick cinnamon, whole cloves, and such seasonings in large quantity.

When cooking with spices and herbs and purchasing them, look for strength and color. Your best guarantee of freshness and flavor is the brand name of the distributor. Try different ones and find your favorites. The skillful use of these seasonings is the secret to distinctive flavoring in salads, sauces, meats and desserts; really in all forms of cooking.


When cooking some of my favorite desserts are deliciously seasoned with them like this fig cake recipe.

  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 Cup buttermilk
  • 1 Cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ Cups sugar
  • 2 Cups sifted flour
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 Teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon allspice
  • 1 Cup ground nuts
  • 1 ½ Cups canned figs, drain and coarsely chop

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Combine eggs, buttermilk, oil and sugar; blend well.

Add flour, soda, salt, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice; mix well.

Blend in nuts and figs; pour into a greased and floured tube pan.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until pick comes out clean.

Pour hot sauce over cake and return to oven until bubbly and slightly brown.


  • ½ Cup buttermilk
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • ¾ Cup butter
  • ½ Teaspoon baking soda

Cook in saucepan until mixture reaches soft ball stage; pour over hot cake.


  • 1 Clove minced garlic
  • 2 Teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 Zucchinis sliced in ¼ inch slices
  • 1 Teaspoon sugar
  • ½ Cup black olives sliced
  • ¼ Cup slivered olives
  • 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/3 Cup chili sauce
  • 1/3 Cup spicy sweet French salad dressing
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • ½ Teaspoon dried tarragon
  • ¼ Teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt/pepper to taste
  • Salad greens

Sauté garlic in olive oil; add zucchini and stir fry until barely tender.

Remove zucchini from pan and place in salad bowl.

Add sugar, olives, almonds, vinegar, chili sauce, French dressing, parsley, tarragon, salt, pepper.

Cool and stir over moderate heat about 2 minutes; pour sauce over zucchini and toss to coat.

Serve over a bed of salad greens.


If you love cooking with spices like I do, this no bake fruit cake recipe is delicious and wonderful for holiday recipes. It is great for Christmas!

  • 1 Cup whole shelled Brazil nuts
  • 1 Cup pitted dates (not cut)
  • 1 Small jar red maraschino cherries, drain and cut
  • ½ Pound graham crackers, crushed fine
  • ½ Pound marshmallows
  • 1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
  • 1/3 Cup orange juice
  • 1/8 Teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 Teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 Teaspoon cloves
  • 1/8 Teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 Teaspoon ginger

Combine and mix well nuts, dates, cherries and graham crackers.

Melt marshmallows with orange rind, orange juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and ginger in top of double boiler.

Stir marshmallow mixture into fruit and nut mixture; divide into two rolls.

Wrap each roll in foil and chill 6 to 8 hours.

Unwrap and cover each roll in ¼ cup finely chopped nuts; cut in ¼ inch slices.


Spicy PotatoesSpicy Potatoes

Who doesn’t like potatoes? Try potatoes by cooking with spices and herbs and they are so delicious.

  • 3 Pounds potatoes, unpeeled and cut into wedges
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 1 Teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 Teaspoon paprika
  • ½ Teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ Teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ Cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F degrees; grease baking sheet.

Wash potatoes and drain; put in bowl and toss with the oil to coat.

Combine remaining ingredients; sprinkle half over the potatoes and toss to coat potatoes.

Add remaining mixture to potatoes and toss again to coat; place potatoes on baking sheet.

Bake about 45 minutes until tender.


If you love cooking with spices and herbs, don’t forget about wonderful hot drinks like this Wassail punch recipe.

  • 1 Orange
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons whole cloves
  • 3 Sticks (3 inch each) cinnamon
  • ½ Cups sugar
  • 1 Gallon apple cider
  • 2 Cups orange juice
  • 1 Cup lemon juice

Peel orange and lemon being careful to keep the peels intact; insert cloves in each strip of peel.

Combine rinds, cinnamon sticks, sugar and apple cider in a large Dutch oven; bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes and then remove from heat.

Let cool completely; add orange juice and lemon juice to mixture.

To serve reheat and ladle into mugs.


  • 3 Pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 Teaspoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon basil
  • 1 Teaspoon thyme
  • ½ Teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon barbeque sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ Cups butter
  • 1 Package (8 ounces) cooked and drained spaghetti
  • 1 Package (8 ounces) sliced American cheese

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Place shrimp in baking dish.

Combine salt, pepper, basil, thyme and garlic powder; sprinkle over shrimp.

Drizzle barbeque sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce over the shrimp.

Sprinkle the parsley over top; cut butter into pieces and place on top.

Bake for 25 minutes; stir once or twice.

Place cooked spaghetti in another baking dish; pour shrimp and sauce over the spaghetti.

Top with cheese slices and bake until cheese bubbles about 15 minutes.