Dried herbs deserve pride of place in your kitchen cupboard. We've put together a handy guide to help you make the most of these store cupboard heroes.
Dried herbs can't be beaten for convenience or value. They can jazz up any dish and take it from bland and boring to breathtakingly delicious in just one sprinkle. Sometimes it can be tricky to know which herbs to match with what dishes and flavours, so we've done the hard work for you. If you're looking to spruce up a stew or pep up your pasta, look no further...
Some useful tips
Buying and storing
- Light and heat are the enemies of dried herbs and spices, so don't keep them in a rack near the stove. A plastic box is ideal - stick a label on each jar lid, so it's easy to read from above.
- We like Seasoned Pioneers, which packages herbs and spices in resealable foil sachets - they last for ages.
- If you're looking for something special, steenbergs.co.uk offers a global range of largely organic herbs and spices. Its website is packed with know-how and recipes inspiration.
- Specialist and wholesale shops offer giant packs at low prices, but for the average household it's wiser to buy in small quantities more often.
- The Bart range (bart-ingredients.co.uk) has jars with flip lids, allowing you to spoon or sprinkle.
Getting the best form your herbs
- In a recipe, 1 tsp dried herbs equals 1 tbsp fresh. In general, use 1/4 - 1/2 of dried herbs per serving.
- To release flavour, dried herbs are best rehydrated. Add either at the beginning of cooking, or about 20 minutes before the end. Try mixing herbs with 1 tsp of oil and leaving for 10-15 minutes before using in dressings, marinages or sauces. Instead of sprinkling dried oregano on a pizza, steep in a little oil and use as a drizzle.
- Dried herbs are a useful way to cut down on salt. Where possible, add them during cooking rather than sprinkling on top.
Dry your own
- Put sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint or marjoram leaves in a single layer between sheets of kitchen paper and microwave on high for 1-2 mins until brittle.
- If you have a bay tree, use the leaves fresh, or air-fry by hanging stems in an airy place, then picking off leaves to store in a tin or jar.
Essential for the Moroccan seasoning ras el hanout, and subtle Indian dishes. Rose petals also make beautiful cake and cupcake decorations.
Dried dill is useful where fresh isn't available, to give a Scandinacian touch to fish, egg dishes and potatoes (don't confuse with dill seeds, which are used in pickles).
Oregano is the one herb that is generally considered better dried than fresh. It's indispensible in Italian and Mexican cooking, especially with tomatoes and cheese. Its cousin marjoram is often overlooked, but offers a sweeter, less assertive flavour, useful for red meats and pulses.
A couple of bay leaves will give mellow sweetness to braises, stews, stocks and soups. A bay leaf alos makes a pleasing change when flavouring custards and rice puddings - infuse heated milk, or stir in with the rice.
Dried thyme is a multi-purpose herb to pop into a soup or casserole when a sprig of fresh is not available. Also great with chicken.
Lavendar is good in shortbread or as a flavouring for ice cream or custard. Sprinkle sparingly onto lamb or oily fish before roasting or baking.
Rubbed (or crumbled) sage is better than powdered. It lacks the zing of fresh, but it complements poultry, pork and butternut squash and stuffings.
Sometimes called kaffir lime leaves, tear or shred into Thai soups and curries for a distinctive citrus flavour.
Rosemary adds a pine fragrance to slow-ccoked dishes (particularly Italian-style soups, stews, braises and all lamb dishes). Use sparingly, and chop if you don't want spiky leaves in your finished dish.
Mint has made a recent comeback, thanks to the trend for Middle Eastern food. Like fresh, dried mint can overpower, so use sparingly. Spearmint is more suited to savoury dishes (especially Greek dishes, lamb and split pea soup) than peppermint (use for sweets and chocolates).
Choose freeze-dried lemongrass stalks, which have almost the same brightness and fragrance as fresh. Along with lime leaves - also best freeze-dried- lemongrass is good in curries and Thai dishes involving coconut.