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Basic Herbs and Spices to Stock

May 01, 1986|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Question: I don't have a complete line of herbs and spices in my pantry and I know there are a million of them. Can you please tell me what different herbs are interchangeable, if any at all? For instance what can I use for mace or marjoram? Also, what is quatre epices? There's also seasoning blend, which I have been finding in quite a few recipes lately. I would like to know who makes it, so I'd know what to look for in the stores.

Answer: "The New Doubleday Cookbook" by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna has the answers for you. According to the authors, because a number of herbs and spices taste somewhat the same, the following can be interchanged in a pinch (substitute measure for measure):

Herbs: Basil and oregano

Caraway and Anise

Celery seeds and minced celery tops

Chervil (slightly licorice) and Parsley

Chervil and Tarragon

Fennel and Anise

Fennel and Tarragon

Oregano and Marjoram

Sage and Thyme

Spices: Allspice and equal parts cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg

Chili peppers and cayenne

Nutmeg and mace (milder)

Quatre epices is a French blend of four spices used as an all-purpose seasoner for meats (particularly broiled steaks and chops) and vegetables (carrots, turnips and parsnips), soups and sauces. The spices are cloves, ginger, nutmeg and white pepper.

You can make quatre epices at home by combining 5 tablespoons ground cloves and 3 tablespoons each of ground ginger, nutmeg and white pepper.

Seasoning blend, like seasoned salt, is an all-purpose seasoning of salt, spices and herbs the proportion of which varies from one processor to another. For a specific brand, there's Morton Nature's Seasons Seasoning Blend manufactured by Morton Salt. According to the label, its main components are salt, pepper, sugar, spices, calcium silicate, oil of onion, garlic, parsley and celery seeds.

Q: In some of your recipes, you use the word drained after a canned vegetable like kidney beans, for instance. If the word drained is not included in any recipe, should I therefore add the liquid at all times?

A: Recipes for the Food Section always indicate if canned food is to be drained. Often the word undrained is omitted but it should be understood as such. If a recipe does say undrained, it is sometimes stated to emphasize the importance of using the canned liquid for the success of the recipe. Aside from canned beans, another ingredient that frequently confuses people is canned whole tomatoes. Unless we specify to drain, it is undrained.

Q: How should potato flour be used? I bought a package and used it once for a recipe. But I would like to use it up in other recipes before the package gets spoiled. Can it be substituted for all-purpose flour?

A: Made from cooked potatoes that have been dried and ground, potato flour (sometimes called potato starch) has a thickening power of 2 to 2 1/2 times that of flour. When substituting for flour, use about half or a little less potato flour than the amount of all-purpose specified.

Potato flour may be used like all-purpose flour in gravies and savory sauces and unlike flour that gives an opaque appearance, it produces a translucent sauce. As with cornstarch, to prevent lumping, potato flour should not be added directly to any hot or bubbling liquid. Instead it should be first dissolved in cold liquid before stirring into the hot mixture. After the sauce has thickened, avoid boiling or cooking the mixture further or it will thin out.

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