Kitchen Shrink

Kitchen Shrink: Kick up your heels with herbs and spices

Cucumber Dill Salad
Cucumber Dill Salad


During spring break I experimented with fun and exciting herbs, spices, and flavorings incorporating these darlings into every drink, dish, snack and baked treat. They lend an antioxidant oomph and pizzazz to everything they season or garnish without packing on fat or calories. So let’s get sassy with an A to Z list of fine herbs and spices. Since it’s also National Poetry Month, I’m adding a splash of colorful culinary creativity to my prose.

Aromatic Anise, the Methuselah of plants known since 1500 B.C. has edible leaves and seeds reminiscent of sweet licorice that pair well with confections, libations, meats and fish. The multi-tasking seeds also freshen breath.

Bold Basil with a pop of bright green leaves enlivens Mediterranean, Indonesian and Thai dishes from pesto and caprice salads to stir-fries and hot pots, along with lemonades, iced teas, and invigorating cocktails.

Cardamom known as the “Queen of Spices” is adored by Ayurvedic healers and foodies alike. A staple in Indian curries and lentils, these aromatic pods also perk up a cup of joe, and give an exotic accent to piecrusts, berries, and rice dishes.

Dandy Dill will cool your heels with a grassy zing that blends beautifully with allspice, ginger and garlic for pickling cucumbers and seasonal vegetables, while amping up grilled fish, potato and other picnic salads.

Wild, exciting Epazote’s popular in gaseous Latin dishes as it miraculously puts the skids on flatulence.

The two faces of Fennel include the pale green, bulbous stalk with feathery foliage that’s enjoyed as a vegetable, or the brownish-green seeds used to ramp up assorted delights and liqueurs.

Freshly shredded Ginger root or its pungent powder gives a smooth, warm bite to comfort food and drinks, while easing morning sickness, indigestion, and scratchy throats.

Sprinkle Herbes de Provence liberally to make your taste buds sing with the blend of basil, lavender, fennel seed, marjoram, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Italian Parsley, curly’s cousin, a flat-leafed, full-bodied beaut garnishes, tweaks, and brightens savory dishes of all manners.

Jamaican Jerk, a Caribbean combo of chiles, cinnamon, cloves, thyme, garlic and ginger will make chicken and pork do a mambo in your mouth.

Ku chai blends the essence of both garlic and chives in its grassy leaves.

The fragrant, citrusy Lavender bud strikingly garnishes and peps up all your faves.

Menthol-rich Mint leaves awaken the senses, cool the palate, soothe the digestive system, perk up memory, and jazz up everything from luscious lamb to invigorating mojitos.

A pinch of woodsy, freshly grated Nutmeg in a bubbling lasagna, or on a frothy latte will captivate your taste buds.

Marinara’s best friend is also yours as Oregano packs a powerful antioxidant punch—so shake it up!

Popular Pepper grows in clusters of unripe berries of black, white, green and pink peppercorns. An attention-grabber especially when blended in dark, earthy chocolate delights.

Quatre epices from French “four spices” is typically a finely ground blend of white pepper, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to soup up soups and stews.

Remarkable Rosemary has been jogging memories for centuries, while imparting a nutty zing to chicken, lamb, and stews, along with accenting holiday doors.

From the farms of Iran or the plains of Spain come handpicked crimson Saffron stigmas — the caviar of the spice world carrying an exorbitant pricetag — worth every penny. They pigment each dish with a glorious golden hue while infusing with exotic musky flavors of honey and the sea.

The jewel of Indian spices, tantalizing Turmeric root can be grated fresh or sprinkled as a powder to add vibrant eye candy and an antioxidant boost to savories and sweets.

Umami, the palate-pleasing fifth element of taste, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter, translates roughly from Japanese to mean “savory.”

Teeny-weeny, intoxicating Vanilla Beans scraped from the skinny dried pod enchantingly transform practically every food on Earth into heavenly creations.

Wild Coriander like cilantro on steroids, adds an earthiness to Asian and Latin American dishes.

Xylitol, naturally occurring in fibrous fruits and vegetables is a super sweet sugar substitute that paradoxically repels cavities.

When unpalatable Yarrow leaves are brewed as a tea or compounded into a salve they become a healing hero.

The sweetheart of Middle Eastern dishes, zesty Za’atar becomes a culinary rock star when blended with citrusy sumac, toasted sesame seeds, pink salt and olive oil as a divine dipping sauce.


Recipe: Sweet, Sour, Silky Cucumber Dill Salad

Ingredients: 1 English cucumber, sliced in chunks; 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or goat kefir; 1 teaspoon honey; 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar; juice from half a lemon; 3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill; salt and pepper to taste

Method: Strain cucumber slices. Add salt. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Blend cucumbers and chill.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: and see more recipes at

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