In the kitchen cupboard of an average Nigerian household, the basic spices you will likely find are: salt, sugar, curry, thyme, pepper, seasonings (most with monosodium glutamate) in sachet and cube forms. We hardly use fresh herbs; we’re practically stuck with the same old spices. If you missed out on the first part of this series, where I wrote how you can enrich the taste of your food with some herbs and spices, and white wine (yes, white wine!), check it out here.
I’m sharing four more delicious herbs and spices, and some, with us today. Enjoy.
Sweet Basil: the wonder herb, with a sweet, minty scent. Great thing we have this here, in abundance, and very fresh. We all know it. It’s known in Igbo as Nchuanwu, and in Yoruba as Effirin, and popularly as “scent leaf”. But I don’t think we’re aware of our good fortune, nor have we explored the use of this herb in every delicious way. Basil blends perfectly, and is often paired, with tomatoes. That’s why our regular “red” Sunday stew (a mixture of tomato + chili pepper + paprika) tastes amazing when a few fresh Basil leaves are chopped and sprinkled in it, or when the dried leaves are crumbled over it. Basil also complements meat, egg, pasta, and vegetables dishes. You can also sprinkle over roast chicken or fish. It mixes well with other herbs and spices like thyme, garlic, and oregano.
Dill: The first time I was aware of any herb called Dill was when I was much younger. We had a dish cloth at home with the images of various herbs, and Dill was one of them. Recently, I came upon this herb, fresh, at Shoprite. One thing that’s good about this herb is that you can seal up and freeze any fresh and unused leaves you have purchased, for later use. Dill is great in Irish potato porridges, potato salads (any salad actually), fish sauces, and tomato soups and stews. You may also sprinkle chopped young dill on pork chops or steak during the last five minutes of cooking. Fresh bunches of Dill may come with seeds; these may be kept in an air-tight container and used when needed. Dill leaves are usually referred to as “Dill weed” to differentiate them from the seeds.
Yoghurt: Did you know that you can cook with yoghurt? There are amazing health and nutritional benefits of eating yoghurt. Packed full of minerals like calcium and probiotics, you can enjoy your yoghurt beyond eating it out of a cup or drinking it from a bottle. With yoghurt you can create creamy sauces, decadent soups, and tangy marinades. One of the best things you can use yoghurt for is as a marinade for your meat. Yogurt will tenderize and enhance the flavor of beef, pork, and chicken, when used in the marinade. It makes your meat all soft, yummy, and delicious after you cook. For meat rolls, you can substitute margarine for yoghurt as a healthier low-calorie option. Also, mix yoghurt with cornstarch to create a smooth thickener for your gravy stews. Get your yoghurt plain and unsweetened. You can try low-fat if you’re calorie conscious. Tip: For an extra zesty marinade, using plain yoghurt as a base, add in some chopped garlic, chili pepper, cumin, and onion flakes. Mix well. Then add your meat.
Cumin: this is a spice with a rich distinctive flavour that can be found – dry, ground, and packaged – in many of the supermarkets and malls in town. It is an important ingredient in most curry powders. If you love spicy food, you’ll love to use cumin. It is great in stews, barbecue marinades, sauces, and chicken dishes. Add Cumin to lime or lemon (these tangy citrus fruits tenderize and flavour wonderfully) based marinades for chicken, turkey, and pork. Cumin and garlic make a great combo. Mix both in olive oil, heat, and spread over cooked vegetables or potatoes. Tip: Tired of eating plain white rice with your stews every Sunday? Add a little Cumin while cooking white rice for colour and a bit of flavour.
Nutmeg: we all know nutmeg. But how many of us use it in a wide variety of our cooking? With an earthy, sweet and spicy aroma, Nutmeg is great for baking. Use in custards, pancakes, puddings, and pies. It’s also particularly good in fruit and vegetable dishes, especially potatoes and spinach. Add some nutmeg to your stew, meats, sausages, fish, and chicken for a unique flavour. Whole nutmeg seeds, bought and ground on your own has a flavour way better than the ones bought, already ground and packaged, in the market.
Try something new. If you haven’t been using any of these herbs and spices (and yoghurt), look out for them in supermarkets and shopping malls near you, and give your taste buds a holiday. For yoghurt, don’t forget to get it plain and unsweetened. Keep up with Connectnigeria.com. Next week, we’ll discover even more ways to flavour your meals.