Food with an Attitude: Cooking with Herbs

No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing!

Good Cooks Learn from Others



Let’s look at cooking in general before we delve into cooking with herbs. I was cooking when I had to stand on a wooden box to reach the stove. I can hardly remember not being able to cook. Although I have been cooking for about seventy years and learned from the best cooks around Granville, there are many things that I have not mastered. I can’t make yeast rolls like Tommie Clemons, nor divinity candies like Vallie Williams, nor hushpuppy like Louise Ragland, nor biscuits like Mabel Sadler. Am I a good cook and a cook with an attitude? Maybe, because I taught by the best; I can set a table like Vallie Williams, make cole slaw like Louise Ragland, and make cornbread like Mable Sadler. Tommie Clemons continues to be my Google; I call her for advice regularly. I am forever grateful to all the good cooks in my life, they taught me to enjoy cooking.

Is that an Original Cooking Tip?


A recipe has no soul, as a cook you add the soul.

Is this cooking tip original? How would a cook of seventy years know that? As stated above, I watched and learned from the best cooks and I have continued to learn from others throughout my life. I read cookbooks for pleasure and I watch cooking shows on television. Somehow through all this, I have developed into a comfortable cook. It is easy for me. I am somewhat intuitive with ingredients that compliment flavors.


Cooking with Herbs



Have you always wanted to cook with herbs but never knew which herb complemented which food? Try this quick and easy guide from an experienced country cook.


When summer arrives, the local farmers market offers beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables. It is time to shelve those jars of dried herbs and brighten your meals with fresh herbs. If you’ve never used fresh herbs, it can be a bit intimating. When professional chefs on the cooking shows refer to herbs as the secret ingredient in their dishes, it does sound a little frightening. No secrets here, just a quick and easy guide to begin cooking with herbs with confidence.

10 Must Have Spices/Herbs

This country cook will provide a quick list of spices and/or herbs necessary for cooking food with an attitude. These items enhance many family favorites. This is in random order, not listed in order of importance.


1. Basil- Use fresh in salads, cold dishes, chopped, broiled with vegetable dishes. This is one herb that is much better used fresh, when possible.

2. Rosemary- Enhances the flavor of gravies, chicken dishes, and roasted potatoes. Rosemary roasted potatoes will be a welcome addition to most meals.

3. Oregano- Spaghetti sauce, pizza, onion and mushroom omelets, and pizza beg for a little oregano.

4. Cumin- A nutty flavor which compliments beans, lentils, soups, and stews.

5. Cayenne- If you like spicy with a hit of bold, cayenne is your spice. Used in gumbo, fajitas, and curries.

6. Cinnamon- Great with savory dishes like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apples, desserts, and breads.

7. Pepper- (white, black, and red) A little pepper adds a pungent flavor to any dish. White pepper is excellent with white meat and white sauce.

8. Ginger- Cookies, desserts, chicken, and drinks.

9. Onion- This is a staple that most cooks use freely. Onions add flavor to dishes such as stuffings, casseroles, salads, and sandwiches.

10. Garlic- Probably second to onions in everyone’s kitchen, this strong pungent smell adds flavor but may keep your date at a distance. It is wonderful for garlic bread, stir fried, and in a multitude of dishes. Minced, chopped or roasted it can transform any number of recipes.


Helpful Hints

Wash- Wash herbs by using a pan of cool water and swishing the leaves of the herb in the water and place on a paper towel to dry.

Chop-When chopping herbs, chop leaves very fine because more oils and flavor will be released.

Start small-I find that there is no hard and fast rule to cooking with herbs. Start with adding small amounts to determine what you like. Fresh herbs in cold dishes are added at room temperature. For example, if adding fresh basil to a garden salad, the basil is at room temperature when added.

Dips and salsa- For refrigerated foods like dips and salsa, the fresh herbs should be added several hours or overnight before using. Basil is an exception, if basil is added to a dressing and left overnight it becomes bitter.

Cooking time-If dishes require a lengthy cooking time, add herbs toward the end of the cooking time. Extended cooking times reduces the flavor of the herbs. For soups and stews, add the fresh herbs 30 to 45 minutes before completing the cooking time.

Determine what you like- Experiment by making herbal butters or cream cheese by mixing one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herb to ½ cup of butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or plain yogurt. Let set for an hour to allow flavors to blend, taste on a plain cracker. You will get a good feel for the flavor of the herb by taste testing in this manner.

Herbal vinegar- Make your flavored vinegar by bruising one cup fresh herb leaves and two cups of white wine vinegar. Allow to steep for two weeks before using.




Guide to Herbs that Complement Specific Dishes

The following herbs go well with these meats:

  • Beef: thyme, celery, marjoram, coriander, sage, rosemary, oregano, garlic

  • Chicken: garlic, marjoram, tarragon, oregano, coriander

  • Fish, fried: mustard, oregano, tarragon, sage

  • Fish, grilled: thyme, coriander, fennel, rosemary

  • Pork: marjoram, mustard, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic

  • Roast Beef: basil, oregano, thyme, mustard, rosemary, garlic

  • Turkey: basil, rosemary, cumin, oregano, thyme, sage

The following herbs work well in these dishes:

  • Basil: tomatoes, tomato sauces, peas, squash, lamb, fish, eggs, tossed salad

  • Bay leaf: vegetable and fish soups, tomato sauces, poached fish and meat stews

  • Dill: fish, cream and cottage cheese, vegetable salads, pickles, tomatoes

  • Marjoram: fish, vegetable soups, cheese dishes, stew, roast chicken, beef, pork,

  • Mint: jellies, fruit juices, candies, frosting, cakes, pies, pork, and chocolate

  • Oregano: tomato sauces, pork, pizza, vegetable and fish salads, chili

  • Parsley: meats, vegetables, eggs, cheese

  • Rosemary: poultry stuffing, potatoes, cauliflower, fish

  • Sage: stuffing, pork roast, sausage, poultry and hamburgers

  • Savory: eggs, meats, salads, chicken, soups and stuffing

  • Tarragon: fish sauces, egg and cheese dishes, green salads, pickles, chicken tom

  • Thyme: soups, stuffing, eggs, cheese, bean and vegetable soups



More than ingredients

Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art!

It’s a fact, the quality of the ingredients makes a difference in any recipe. However, it takes more than ingredients and a recipe to be a good cook. A good cook, cooks with enjoyment and is willing to experiment.

Not every cook will agree with this list nor will they all agree on how to best use the herbs listed. But most cooks would agree that herbs and spice add flavor with a flair. If you want food with an attitude, try herbs and spices!