Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Odds and ends.

I got the sidebar re-updated. Any readers out there who aren't in the "Community" of links in the sidebar, and want to be, let me know. I think I got everyone who left me their blog links from my last shout-out a week ago.


There were also a lot of comments on the spice rack post, and I thought I'd follow up with all the herbs and spices that got mentioned. I'll add them to the end of the actual Spice Rack post, for anyone who goes wild and looks it up later. But to make it easy on you guys and avoid a lot of scrolling around, I'll throw it in here, too:

-Basil is related to mints, and grows in many of the same areas. It's another of the famous Eurasian plants that's probably native to the eastern half of the Mediterranean, somewhere. The chemicals in basil are delicate and cooking destroys them, so make sure to add it to foods at the last minute, before you eat it.

-Epazote isn't really a spice I don't think (technically) but a seed eaten as a grain. It's a chenopod native to S America, meaning it's most closely related to quinoa and goosefoot. (I talked about this a couple months ago in my 'native American foods' post.)

-Fennel is related to carrots, dill, and a bunch of other culinary plants. We eat the 'bulb', which is similar to onion in physical terms - it is a tightly curled rosette of specialized leaves, not an actual root. Technically the whole plant is edible, though it isn't always eaten that way. It's native to somewhere in Europe.

-Marjoram is an herb so closely related to oregano, I wonder if one is the ancestor of the other. They are different species of the same genus, and closely related even for that.

-Mexican Oregano is a very close relative of European oregano, just native to south and central America instead of Eurasia.

-Pink Peppercorns are from a tree native to South America. It's not a true pepper, and not very closely related to 'real' pepper (which is native to India). It goes by a lot of folk names - American Pepper, Peruvian Pepper, etc. It's the red/pink stuff you see among the black, green, and white peppercorns in bottles of 'mixed' pepper. They've been used in S America for at least 1500 years. Probably longer.

-Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area (not shocking, considering the native cuisines it is popular in). It contains lots of iron, is an anti-oxidant, and works as an anti-inflammatory. The wood is aromatic and used in grilling, and we use the leaves when cooking.

-Tarragon is related to wormwood (the stuff in absinthe) and white sage (the native American incense). It's also related to tumbleweeds, if memory serves. It's native to nearly the entire northern hemisphere, though there's argument about whether the north American versions are naturalized from imported plants or truly native. We eat the leaves.

Other thoughts:

Dried herbs are nearly always stronger than their fresh counterparts. (In fact, I want to say always but I'm not going to look it all up.) They also get bitter when dried. That's why so many of you mentioned your preference for fresh herbs. You aren't imagining it, the tastes really are very different.

We had mint growing in the yard, when I was growing up. It got so bad my dad gave up on it and just let it grow in the shady areas under the trees, choking out the grass. He (and later I) would mow it just like the grass, driving over it with the riding mower. The mint put up with it, simply growing back. It wasn't quite like getting maced, breathing all the mint in the air while mowing, but it sure wasn't pleasant. (My cousins once dared me to drink a whole bottle of Listermint. Mowing the mint was a lot like that.) I also remember my mother going out there and ripping some out of the ground to cook with. We beat that mint to heck and back, and I'll bet you there's still some there in that yard, twenty years later.


Mandy said...

I have spearmint growing in my back yard, right next to the house, and you can't kill it! We drive over it every time we mow, and it just spreads. It even comes up between the boards on the deck. But at least I have fresh spearmint all summer long for cooking and tea making. And it smells lovely.

Unfortunately, it also attracts bees and wasps when it blooms - last summer I had enormous black wasps (probably 2-3" long!) around my back door for a couple of days. I can't recall now what they were, although I looked them up at the time, and was glad to see that everyone said they weren't particularly aggressive!

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