The 3 Herbs & Spices That Will Instantly Improve Your Cooking

02/11/2011 01:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is amazing how easy it can be to add a lot of flavor to food. That may sound obvious, but we often eat the very same food, prepared the very same way, over and over again. Yet, with the simple shake of a little glass jar, you can bring an entirely new and exciting taste dimension to your meals.

Here are three readily available herbs and spices that I use frequently to totally titillate my taste buds.

1. Ancho Chili Powder. The word "chili" does not necessarily translate into "spicy." Of course there are chilies that will blow your doors off, but there are also those that are mild, and others that are even considered kind of "fruity." The ancho chili is one of those, not hot, but with a mellow hint of raisin. You can buy and cook them whole, but I suggest you use the already ground powder. You'll have to decide for yourself, but to me it brings an earthy, fragrant New Mexican accent to foods. Sprinkle it on chicken pieces before roasting or season raw shrimp with it (and salt) and then sauté in a little olive oil with sliced garlic, finishing it with and a squeeze of lime and fresh chopped cilantro. Nothing wrong with that. You can eat the shrimp as is, or drop 'em between two tortillas with Jack Cheese and avocado for a sensational quesadilla. Or, you could even add some more olive oil to it and serve over a simple bowl of pasta. Not only delicious, the powder adds an appetizing rust color to your dish.

2. Smoked Spanish Paprika. Also called pimentón, it's very much in vogue these days among the foodies, which is understandable because it's the simplest way conceivable to bring a rich, smoky (Spanish) flavor profile to your palate. You could use it in so many ways, adding it to whatever might be enhanced by its smokiness, such as meats, potatoes, eggs and dressings. I pour it over a batch of chickpeas, out of the can and rinsed. I add olive oil and salt and toss 'em into the toaster oven at 425 for just long enough to get it slightly crisp on the outside, but still soft and chewy inside, about 10-12 minutes. These things disappear before dinner and, for what it's worth, I hear they're good for you too.

3. Herbs de Provence. Don't let the fancy French name fool you; you can buy a bottle of it most supermarkets, and the stuff rocks. Why? Because Provence is in the Southwest of France, home to some of the most delicious food in the entire world, mainly due to its locally grown ingredients. In the case of herbs, that translates into rosemary, fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, lavender, chervil and marjoram. It's fantastic, actually, because rather than having to measure and shake out eight different bottles into your recipe, you can have it properly blended and ready to go from just one. How to use? We love its flavor on roast chicken, potatoes and added into the morning eggs. Use it on fish, vegetables, to fancify your vinaigrette, or on anything you wish to grace with a breath of the French countryside.

I think you'll be happy.

If you want to buy them online, you can here.


Food, Herbs, Cooking