Learning and testing new herbs/seasonings
I have recently become very interested in cooking and I would like to learn how to use herbs. Coming from a foreign cuisine, I never really learned to distinguish between the many herbs/seasonings my mom used and I feel like that has created a big barrier for me in terms of learning to cook. Also, being on a college budget, I can't really experiment over and over with new dishes. So I was wondering if anyone knew a great method to test out herbs/seasonings besides just sticking them in my mouth as they are. Currently I just test out new herbs/seasonings using plain rice, but I am looking for easier and/or better mediums to test with.
when you say "foreign cuisine", what is that background?
i find if i like the smell of something, i like the taste. i can't abide sage or saffron, so never cook with them.
think of what herbs are native to where, and generally they combine well. for example, mediterranean dishes do well with mint, rosemary, thyme, basil, bay and parsley. pasta or eggs with a bit of butter or olive oil and a combo of any of the above will work.
you can also chop herbs and pour warm olive oil over them to steep for a day or so to make infused oils.
dried herbs should be "fried" a bit in your cooking fat to release their oils. both fresh and dried should be aromatic. those little sprigs sold in the plastic boxes are wildly expensive and usually too old. i buy most of my fresh herbs in latin or asian markets. prices are low and turn-over is excellent. you'd fell less profligate cooking with a $1 bunch of basil vs. a $3 box of a few twigs, wouldn't you?
Do you enjoy eggs? Poached, scrambled, omelettes, fried? Because eggs are a terrific, inexpensive, quick cook vehicle for trying most herbs; dried or fresh.
Soup. Herbs add a great depth of flavor to any soup and can be added midway in the process or finished at the end by sprinkling an herb over the bowl. Even straight out of a can, you can "doctor up" soup just by adding fresh herbs.
With cheese. Rolled or pressed into soft and semi-soft cheeses.
Pasta. Even plainly prepared pasta with a bit of butter or olive oil and a healthy addition of chopped herbs is wonderful and again, super easy and inexpensive.
Enjoy those herbs!
Potatoes are a good medium and not too expensive, things like rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, chives work very well with potatoes. Either roasted, or boiled/steamed and tossed with the herbs and butter/oil, mashed potatoes.
Perhaps you could let us know what sort of herbs in specific you are interested in, might help with suggestions.
Mint and Basil don't lend themselves as well to potatoes, but I am sure there are other things they would be great with, tomatoes, cheeses, etc
You can use herbs with pasta, simple butter and sage, butter and thyme, butter and rosemary and a pasta is inexpensive, can use oil instead of butter as well and very neutral taste.
Mushrooms also love herbs, sautee them in oil or butter, add rosemary, thyme, oregano,etc and eat them as is, or throw some pasta in, put them on a piece of toast ,anything goes when experimenting.
Mixing with butter and spreading on bread is another way you could use herbs and taste them.
Well... I'm no expert on this. I like your idea of the rice. It's a relatively bland vehicle. If that is more hassle than you like, you could try instant cream of wheat.
I have heard of someone on chowhound gently frying some herbs and tasting them that way.
You could use hot water and make a bit of a tea by steeping the herb.
There are a lot of seasonings that are only soluble in oil so I think you could use vegetable oil which is refined soil oil. Heat it up gently to about 180 degrees or so and steep herbs in it.
Thinking about it, I think that more than one approach would be best. If you were willing to do it, over time, you would become a true expert. I'm going to have to think about doing that myself.