Knowing what to avoid is sometimes more useful than knowing what to do. The ‘7 disasters waiting to happen’ you’ll learn about here can also be viewed as guiding principles whenever you add herbs and/or spices to your dishes.
Disaster #1: Too Scared to Dare
The saying goes “If you don’t try, you’ll never know”. Well, the same is true of your culinary adventures with herbs and spices.
When we use the word “dare” in this context, we don’t mean you should be experimenting without any heed. We certainly don’t believe in large-scale experimenting if you are a beginner. One must first be familiar with all the different ingredients, before you can try some useful experiments. Rather leave the experimenting for a little later.
What we mean by the word ‘dare’ is that you should have the courage to try new herbs and spices. Your courage in this regard is in direct proportion to your success. The more you risk, the more you stand to gain.
Luckily for you, you have already shown enough courage to make a success of cooking with herbs and spices. How do we know this? Well, you have dared to enroll in this class!
Disaster #2: Herbs and Spices That Dominate
This is probably the biggest disaster of them all… and also the easiest to correct.
Your aim with herbs and spices is to highlight certain flavours and to create new ones. As with anything, there are some exceptions. But generally speaking, the herbs and spices are meant to compliment a dish, not overwhelm it.
That being said, be careful of using too small amounts of herbs and spices in your cooking. If you can’t taste the difference, you’re just wasting your time, money and effort.
You need to find just the right amount to use, i.e. the right balance.
To achieve this, we suggest you learn to use the ‘Salt Principle’. From your own experience you will know that once you have added salt to a dish, you can’t remove it. The same goes for herbs and especially spices.
Rather add just a touch of herbs/spices and allow the flavours to develop. Taste and add more herbs/spices if needed.
If it is your first attempt at cooking with a specific herb/spice, rather halve the amounts asked for in the recipe and apply the ‘Salt Principle’. It is preferable to err on the side of caution rather than overdoing it.
Remember that it is much easier to spoil a dish when using too much dried herbs and when using spices. However, when you make the switch from dried herbs to fresh herbs, keep the ‘Salt Principle’ in mind.
Tip: If you want to replace the fresh herbs in a recipe with dried herbs, use the following guideline:
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs =
1 teaspoon crushed dried herbs =
¼ teaspoon powdered dried herbs.
Disaster #3: Using the Wrong Combinations
It is logical that not all herbs and spices go together well. For some reason, though, many people (including some recipe writers) seem to believe that you can add them willy-nilly to any dish and expect a good result. They seem to believe that ‘what doesn’t kill you must be good for you!’
The only solution to this common error is to learn which herbs and spices complement each other and which herbs suit which type of dishes. But that is just the start. You will also need to learn the ratios of your herbs, if you want to ensure a balanced dish.
How will you learn all this?
Use the cheat sheets you’ll get in Module 2 of this class. Then let your own palate guide you.
Disaster #4: Poor Team Management
This disaster usually occurs with the previous one (disaster #3). But where the previous refers to the combinations of herbs and spices you can use, this one refers to how and when you use your herbs/spices in the cooking process.
It’s not enough to simply know that dill goes well with beetroot. You also need to know how much dill to use and when to add it.
Example: Listen to the experience of my good friend Anton. He makes a really top class Oxtail Potjie (A traditional South African stew). Two of the ingredients he adds at the start are parsley and sweet basil. I explained to him (very diplomatically) that both herbs lose their flavours if they are cooked for long periods and suggested that he should try Italian Parsley – which can handle the longer cooking times – and that he should add even more of both just before serving, to add some impact. What a gastronomical result! Achieved just by using the different ‘players’ more effectively.
Fortunately information on when to add herbs to a recipe is readily available. (And you have to look no further than Cheat Seven.) The most common mistake people make is to ignore the information.
If you are unsure about when to add a specific herb or spice, rather add it towards the end of the cooking process, than at the beginning.
Disaster #5: Forgetting That Tastes Differ
The success of your cooking should be measured by the compliments your guests pay you – not a fixed set of rules. This is simply because tastes differ, so it is impossible that only one set of rules would satisfy everyone.
If you have never used herbs in your cooking, expect a little grumbling from some family members. It is only natural that the sudden barrage of new tastes and flavours, not to mention all the twigs and leaves floating around, will result in some commentary.
Don’t let this deter you. Be patient and adapt your cooking to suit the preferences and tastes of your family. In the long run, you will be able to surpass even their wildest dreams.
Start slowly. Try to improve just one dish at a time, instead of the whole meal.
Disaster #6: Thinking Herbs and Spices are Everything
If you thought that herbs and spices would compensate for poor preparation, ingredients and presentation, you are in for a big shock. If you are a poor cook, no herb will be able to save your dish.
No herbs can save a burnt pot of rice or liven up a salad made of wilted greens.
Also, don’t think that a useful herb, like parsley, is so healthy that it can be added to absolutely everything you make. Your food will be just as boring as it was before your herb adventure. And, the fact that your cooking is suddenly ‘green’ can’t make up for your lack of imagination.
Start with a proven recipe, get the freshest ingredients possible and prepare your dish correctly. Only then can you expect your herbs and spices to turn your dish into something special.
Disaster #7: Clinging to Old Guidelines
Because this common mistake is so contrary to all the previous, it is commonly the mistake most easily and unknowingly made by most people.
It makes sense to have guidelines to help you cook wisely with herbs and spices. These guidelines will make your life easier, by helping you to learn more quickly and to avoid making the most common mistakes.
The disadvantage is that you can quite easily end up in a rut. Try to look at any rule as a mere guideline. Adapt the ‘rules’ to suit your tastes and needs and don’t be afraid of changing them.
The easiest way to prevent this disaster is to make “If my Diners Smile – There are No Rules!” your cooking motto.
Pause and Reflect
Which of the above mistakes have you made? Share your thoughts in a Reply below.