First, some clarification. "Herb" is a rather broad term, referring generally to any plant part used for medicinal, culinary, or aromatic purposes. I'm interested in those roots, leaves, flowers, etc. primarily used in food preparation (and, sorry, but I'm not counting "tea" as a food). The rule of thumb for herbs is usually that fresh trumps dried with regards to taste, texture, and flavor, but sometimes the reverse is true. Or is at least far more convenient. Here are five herbs you needn't always pluck straight from the garden.
5. Star Anise. You may know it as illicium verum. Or not. Anyway, this staple of Chinese and South Asian cuisine is a major component of many meat and masala dishes. The blossoms are harvested before they ripen, and then dried in order to intensity the licorice flavor.
4. Ginger. Yes, fresh ginger is divine and a non-negotiable component of some foods like gari. However, shucking and grating those bulbous rhizomes can be a royal pain in the arse and totally not worth it for run-of-the-mill baking projects.
3. Lavender. One of my versions of heaven is pastoral community where fields of ever-blooming lavender surround every cottage. But this is he-, i mean, Houston, and bountiful gardens are not always just outside your doorstep. Eating flowers is terrific, and there's no shame in cooking with dried lavender blossoms.
2. Cayenne Pepper. Spicy and extremely salubrious, cayenne pepper is made from grinding the desiccated eponymous fruits. The resulting powder or flake form is then easier to incorporate in sauces, stews, and marinades.
1. Oregano. Like many herbs, oregano presents a more concentrated taste in its dried form. So, skip the fresh stuff and go dried oregano, especially if you're preparing a dish that is going to cook for a considerable amount of time (e.g., pasta sauce) as heat tends to decrease the herb's delicate flavor.
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