Spice up cooking!

by Don Bingham
Mike Kemp photos

Almost everyone knows Columbus discovered the new world, but not everyone knows he also discovered chilies, allspice and vanilla!

Herbs and spices enhance cooking and bring to life a large array of dishes for all, year round.

Spices are aromatic seasonings that come from the bark (cinnamon), buds (cloves), fruit (paprika), roots (ginger) or seeds (nutmeg) of plants.

Herbs are at their best if used within six months for freshness and potency. Spices should be kept in a cool, dark cabinet. Herbs should be wrapped in a damp paper towel or cloth and placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Fresh herbs are usually best when added to a dish near the end of cooking — and often, after the dish is removed from the heat. Add ground spices to food about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time. Add whole spices to food one hour before the end of cooking time.

Herbs and spices are a great way to bypass unwanted salt, butter or oils on foods. Spices and herbs should be used to enhance the natural flavor of food, not disguise or obscure it. Use a dry spoon to remove the portion required. Do not sprinkle seasoning directly from the container into a steaming pot. The rising moisture may diminish the potency of the spice or herb remaining in the jar. Crush leaf herbs (oregano, thyme, basil) in your hand before use for a more immediate release of flavor. Use no more than 1/2 teaspoon of dried spices per pound of meat. Red Pepper intensifies in flavor during cooking; add in small increments.

Spice Blend Recipe
4 tablespoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons white pepper
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon basil
4 tablespoons paprika

Combine spices together and blend well. Put a small amount of uncooked rice in the bottom of each shaker to allow spices to blend and flow easily. Use a funnel and fill shakers with spice blend. Makes about one cup.

Garden Blend
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground basil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground parsley
1 teaspoon dried sage

Here are three great recipes using herbs and spices. Enjoy the summer months as you “fire up a notch or two” your favorite summer dishes!

Chicken Enchiladas
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves   
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 onion, chopped   
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 pint sour cream   
1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley   
8 (10 inch) flour tortillas
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano   
1 (12 ounce) jar taco sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper   
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook chicken until no longer pink and juices run clear. Drain excess fat. Cube the chicken and return it to the skillet. Add the onion, sour cream, cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano and ground black pepper. Heat until cheese melts. Stir in salt, tomato sauce, water, chili powder, green pepper and garlic. Roll even amounts of the mixture in the tortillas. Arrange in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cover with taco sauce and 3/4 cup cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 (46 fluid ounce) can tomato juice
1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 cup chili powder

Place ground beef in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, and crumble. In a large pot over high heat, combine the ground beef, tomato juice, tomato sauce, kidney beans, pinto beans, onions, bell pepper, cayenne pepper, sugar, oregano, ground black pepper, salt, cumin and chili powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours. (Note: If using a slow cooker, set on low, add ingredients and cook for 8 to 10 hours.)

Curried Coconut Chicken
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into
    1/2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed, diced tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons sugar

Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat oil and curry powder in a large skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes. Stir in onions and garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add chicken, tossing lightly to coat with curry oil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in center and juices run clear. Pour coconut milk, tomatoes, tomato sauce and sugar into the pan and stir to confine. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Top 20 herbs & spices

Garlic powder — great in almost every savory dish
Whole peppercorns — use a grinder, and you’ll love the results
Oregano — rub between palms before using
Basil — great with oregano
Dill weed — essential for fish
Paprika — Sweet Hungarian is best
Cumin — essential for Mexican dishes
Cinnamon — baking and curries
Nutmeg — baking and cream sauces; grate your own
Rosemary — poultry basic
Saffron — expensive, but worth it
Sage — a must for poultry
Thyme — good with meat and poultry
Parsley — great for adding color; mild flavor
Bay leaf — a must for soups and stews
Tarragon — good with seafood and poultry
Onion powder — flavor booster to replace salt
Chili powder — get the real thing, not a blend
Celery seed — great in potato salad
Arrowroot — perfect for thickening sauces


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and previously served
as the executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion. He is now the director of special events at the University of Central Arkansas.


Don Bingham
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