It’s no secret – we love chili peppers. And we like them as close to freshly picked as possible. Bursting with freshness, flavour and aroma.
Dried chilies tend to be too overpowering for us. Besides, they lack the complex flavour profile of fresh ones.
Pickled chilies are a great way to preserve that just picked flavour, and they are quick and easy to make.
Nicely decorated bottles of chili pickle are a simple, yet eye-catching gift, especially when you use a whole medley of different colours and sizes of chilies.
When making pickled chili gifts select chili varieties to suit the receiver. For chili heads use extra hot varieties like habanero and tabasco. For soft mouths use milder varieties like Jalapeno and Hungarian wax.
If you don’t grow your own chilies you’ll find a ready supply at your local greengrocer or supermarket.
The first secret to making a winning herbal vinegar is to use more or less equal quantities of fresh herbs and vinegar. This ensures that the herb flavours can stand up to the sharp taste of the vinegar.
Another secret is to let the herbs wilt slightly. This heightens their flavour, again helping them stand up to the sharp taste of the vinegar.
The best vinegar to use is pure white grape vinegar. Some people also use apple cider or rice vinegar. When starting out, first make small batches with your favourite vinegars to find the one you like most.
Tip: It is a good practice to notice the proportions of the different herbs that you use and to measure out the spices. This will allow you to recreate your signature herb infused vinegars.
1 cup clean, wilted fresh herbs, lightly bruised with a rolling pin
Sterilize a wide mouth jar or bottle. An old 500ml mayonnaise bottle works well.
Rinse the herbs if needed and allow to dry.
Let the herbs wilt slightly to get rid of any unnecessary moisture.
Pack the bottle lightly with the herbs.
Crush and add the spices if using.
Add the vinegar.
Seal the bottle, label it and shake well.
Keep in a cool, dark place and taste after 4 days to see if the vinegar has been infused to your taste. If not, let stand for up to ten days. Shake the bottle regularly in the ageing period.
Strain through a muslin cloth or through a coffee filter.
Transfer the strained vinegar into another sterilized bottle. Seal. Label and decorate. Your vinegar is ready to use.
Caution: The vinegar can ferment if it is kept too warm. A low storage temperature is also important for maintaining the flavour. Discard any vinegar that develops a questionable colour or flavour. Use your infused vinegars within three months.
Any steak becomes even more luxurious topped with a dollop of this gently tangy Chive and Blue Cheese Butter. The herb butter also goes well with lamb chops and chicken. I love to spread it on crackers served with preserved figs, or the serve it with freshly baked bread.
One single herb can make the world of difference to any dish but when herbs are used in combination with each other, the effects can be even more delicious. Some herbs work well together, their flavours blending and complementing each other. One such example is the traditional bouquet garni, which consists of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Another is a traditional French blend called fines herbes.
Fines herbes consists of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Although the blend is sometimes used dried, none of the herbs have much flavour in the dried form. So, it’s practically worthless as a dried herb blend.
Maximum flavour is obtained by using fresh herbs. Rather omit a herb that is not available fresh than to substitute it with dried herb.
All four herbs used in fines herbes have subtle flavours that blend well together and complement and enhance each other’s flavour. The subtle nature of the blend also ensures that it does not overpower any dish.
To make your own fines herbes, finely chop equal parts of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Fines herbes should be added to cooked dishes at the end of the cooking period as the herbs, with the exception of tarragon, do not stand up well to heat. For the best results, sprinkle the mixture over dishes as a garnish, or place it in a bowl on the table.
Fines herbes are excellent when sprinkled over green salads. It goes particularly well with egg dishes, especially omelet’s. Use it to garnish light vegetable or simple cream-based soups.
Chicken, especially when poached, greatly benefits when sprinkled with this blend before being served. Fines herbes are excellent with simple fish dishes. Steamed vegetables, like beans, marrows and broccoli becomes a delicacy when flavoured with this blend.
According to Tony Hill, author of the Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices seasoning salts are one of the fastest growing categories of spice sales. They are incredibly versatile from a marketing perspective he says; you can attach just about any culinary trend or herb and spice blend to a seasoning salt. Tex-Mex, BBQ Spice, Greek, Italian, Poultry, the sky is the limit.
Seasoning salts aren’t hard to formulate and the nature of salt is that it will stabilize and preserve whatever tastes you care to add to them.
The blends also tend to get better over time as the flavours infuse and marry with the salt and each other. This means one can make a large batch every three months and draw from the pot as needed.
Buy a good quality sea salt and start experimenting.
1.Basic Herb Salt Recipe
Most of us are familiar with celery salt and garlic salt. But few cooks realise how simple and easy it is to make a whole range of herb salts. Use the following basic recipe and any herb you prefer. The stronger more robust herbs maintain their flavour best in a herb salt.
You are also welcome to try some combinations of herbs and spices.
4 parts fresh herbs 8 parts sea salt
Set your oven to its lowest temperature.
Chop the herbs as finely as possible and mix with the salt. Spread the mixture on a baking pan and cover with foil.
Place in the oven, keeping the oven door slightly ajar, and dry for approximately 1 ½ hours or until the herbs are dry and brittle.
Allow to cool. Crumble the herbs with the salt.
Package the herb salt in airtight containers, which have been decorated and labelled beforehand.
Seasoning Salt Recipes
For all the seasoning salt recipes below, it’s best to grind or crush all the spices together with the salt by running the entire batch though a coffee mill. The texture depends on your preference. Little bottles make great gifts for family and friends and won’t break the bank.
2. Poultry Seasoning Salt
This seasoning salt is a good example of the endless variations available to you when you start cooking with herbs and spices. Since we like pungent food we add 1-2 Tbs extra hot chilli powder to this recipe.
Mix all the ingredients then ground them finely in a blender. Put in a shaker bottle.
5. Salt-Free Barbecue Rub
This rub works well with any kind of meat. Beware: because of the high sugar content it caramelizes (blackens) quickly on the braai.
9 parts brown sugar
6 parts paprika powder
3 parts black pepper
3 parts garlic powder or flakes
1 part cayenne pepper
½ part onion powder
½ part mustard powder
½ part celery seed, crushed
½ part chilli powder
½ part cumin, crushed
Mix all the ingredients then store in an airtight container.
Making your own herb and spice blends is the ultimate in culinary adventure. With a mere handful of different herbs, spices and other flavourings you can create a nearly endless variety of healthy gourmet dishes.
Your aim in making a blend should be to produce a balanced, complex flavour that makes your diners want to take another bite, not analyze it.
You will soon find that by simply using one or two herbs and spices you won’t be able to achieve this aim. You will, most likely, be using three or four herbs, plus a spice or two, resulting in greater depth to your finished dishes.
How do you formulate blends?
The easiest way to start is to copy classic recipes. These have endured the test of time because they work. And making them to perfection comes with automatic bragging rights.
“Classic dishes typically consist of combinations – of flavours, textures, even aromas and colour – that history has been hard-pressed to offer improvements upon. Their having stood the test of time speaks to the elegance of their form, in combining flavours harmoniously but, in many cases, synergistically, such that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the individual parts” – Dornenburg and Page.
How To Deconstruct the Classic Herb and Spice Blends
When you study the classic herb and spice blends a good learning tool is to deconstruct the recipe. This will deepen your understanding and appreciation of why these blends have stood the test of time. And it allows you to develop your savoir faire for creating your own blends.
When we deconstruct a recipe we build it up ingredient by ingredient, technique by technique, tasting at each step to determine how the ingredient/technique contribute to the recipe. Doing this with most herb and spice blends is very easy as no cooking is involved.
Let me give you an example…
Fines Herbes is a fresh herb blend consisting of equal proportions of finely chopped parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon. When deconstructing the recipe you start with a simple blend of say parsley and chives (assuming you know how both taste and smell on their own).
Taste and smell the parsley and chive blend then blend in the chervil. Taste and smell. Then blend in the tarragon. Taste and smell. Is the whole indeed greater than the sum of the parts?
A Basic Blending Formula
Once you’ve tried and mastered the classic recipes you’ll have the skill and flair to adapt them to suit your own palate.
“Mastering the classics doesn’t mean doing the same things the same way they’ve always been done – it means making them exactly right for you today. There’s genius in those classic dishes that isn’t always appreciated.” – Rick Bayless chef-owner of Frontera Grill in Chicago.
Formulating your own blends is easier than most people think. What’s more, it is a wonderful creative outlet. Start by tweaking the proportions of any classic or add or omit one or two ingredients. I also like to make traditional dry blends with as many fresh herbs as is possible.
Finding the correct proportions can sometimes be a challenge, but over the years we’ve develop a loose proportion guide which you can try when you start making a new blend from scratch. It looks as follows:
Fusion herbs – 6 parts in total
Mild herbs – 4 parts in total
Robust herbs and spices – 2 parts in total
Other flavourings – 1 part in total
Remember that the proportions of the different herbs and spices in a blend will determine the character of the blend. Equal parts of both mild and robust herbs for example will result in the robust ones masking the mild one
Recipe 1: Dried Barbecue Spice Blend
Say you are going camping and you would like to make a dried general use Barbecue Spice Mix to take along.
Starting with the fusion herbs you know that most of them don’t retain their flavour well when dried. So you can safely omit the fusion herbs in this recipe or you can say “what the heck – lets use them anyway.” You only have dried Italian Parsley and, heaven forgive, some dried chives on hand. So you decide on 4 parts Italian Parsley and 2 parts chives. Giving you a total of 6 parts fusion herbs.
As you can see this is where the endless variations start. You could just as well have tried 5 parts and 1 part, or you could have used more chives and less Italian Parsley. Just ensure that you “roughly” use 6 parts in total.
You can use any measure for measuring out a part. It can be a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup or a wheelbarrow. It depends on the final quantity you want to make. Just don’t change your measure during the recipe.
Next comes your mild herbs of which you need 4 parts in total. You decide on 2 parts marjoram and 2 parts lemon thyme.
For the robust herbs you decide on adding 1 part winter savory and 1 part rosemary to the mixing bowl . Making 2 parts in total.
You want the mix to have a bit of a bite so for the “other flavourings” you add ½ part black peppercorns and ½ part dried chillies. Making up 1 part in total.
Your resulting recipe thus looks as follows:
Fusion herbs – 4 parts Italian Parsley and 2 parts chives = 6 parts
Mild herbs – 2 parts marjoram and 2 parts lemon thyme = 4 parts
Robust herbs – 1 part winter savory and 1 part rosemary = 2 parts
Other – ½ part black pepper and ½ part chilli = 1 part
After mixing the ingredients thoroughly you grind it using a mortar and pestle, or an electric grinder, which allows you to put it into a shaker.
Next you have a taste. It lacks a bit bite and “body”, so you add another pinch of chilli, a little bit of herb salt and a dash of brown sugar. Mix again, taste. Perfect.
Recipe 2: Fresh Barbecue Spice Blend
For our next example let us pretend that somebody did not like your idea of making a dried mix to take along on your trip.
Fresh is always best and they insist on having a fresh Barbecue Spice blend. You duly oblige.
Fusion herbs – 3 parts parsley, 2 parts garlic chives and 1 part bay leaves
Mild herbs – 2 parts basil, 1 part cilantro and 1 part lemon thyme
Robust herbs – 2 parts oregano
Other – ¼ part garlic, ¼ part pepper, ½ part fresh chilli and some lemon zest for extra measure.
You combine all the ingredients in a food processor and chop them evenly.
Next you start adding olive oil teaspoon by teaspoon and continue chopping till you have a smooth paste.
If you stored this in a small sterilised airtight jar it should keep for up to 2 weeks in your camping refrigerator.