If you're new to Eastern European cooking, a great way to get started is to stock your pantry with the right ingredients. Once you have the most common ones, it's likely you'll be able to whip up whatever your heart desires. This list will cover herbs and spices that begin with the letters "A" to "H" that are commonly used in Eastern European cooking.
Herbs vs. Spices
Herbs differ from spices in that herbs are the leaves of certain plants. Spices are the buds, fruits, flowers, bark, seeds, and roots of plants and trees.
The distinction can be a little confusing. What's more important is knowing how to use them and which ingredients they pair well with.
Store spices in a cool place, tightly covered, away from heat, light, and moisture. Whole spices keep longer than ones that are ground, but both lose flavor after about six months. Never store them in a cabinet above a heat source, like a stovetop, they will deteriorate at an even faster pace.
Fresh herbs should be stored either standing in water in the refrigerator or refrigerated without water in a zip-top plastic bag.
Common Herbs and Spices From A to H
- Allspice (spice): Allspice comes in whole berries and ground. It is an individual spice, not a combination of various spices as the name might imply. The flavor is reminiscent of a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It is most often used in sausages, braised meat and poultry dishes, poached fish, pickles and relishes, stewed fruit, cakes, cookies, and pastries and breads.
- Bay leaf (herb): Bay leaves are available in whole dried leaf form and ground powder. It has a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way. Bay leaf is one of the most important herbs used in meat and poultry dishes, soups, stocks, sauces, pot roasts and stews, fish and vegetables, pickles and stuffings.
- Caraway (spice): Caraway is available in whole seeds and ground forms. It has a warm, sweet, slightly sharp taste. Caraway is used in breads, cheese spreads and dips, sauerkraut and cabbage dishes, pickles, pork, and other meats.
- Cardamom (spice): Cardamom is available in whole pods and ground. It has a sweet, highly aromatic flavor that is often used in pickles, cookies, coffee cakes, and other pastries.
- Celery seed (spice): Celery seed is available whole or ground. It has a slightly bitter, fresh celery flavor. Celery seed is used in meat, cheese, egg and fish dishes, barbecue sauces, soups, salad dressings, coleslaw, and tomato products.
- Chives (herb): Chives are available fresh, dried and frozen, and the blossom also is used. This herb is grasslike with mild onion flavor. Chives can be used in salads, egg and cheese dishes, soups, fish, dips and as a garnish.
- Cinnamon (spice): Cinnamon comes in whole sticks and ground. It has a sweet, pungent aroma that pairs well with baked beans, ham, lamb, sweet potatoes, fruit dishes, pickles, breads, cakes, cookies, desserts, pastries, and beverages.
- Cloves (spice): Cloves can be purchased whole and ground. It has a pungent, warm, sweet aroma. Cloves are used in marinades, stocks, sauces, meat, poultry and barbecue dishes, sweet vegetables, pickles and relishes, fruits, breads, cookies, desserts, candies and as a garnish.
- Coriander (herb): Coriander is available fresh, dried and ground. It has a slightly lemony flavor and aroma. Coriander is frequently used in sausage, pork, pickles, breads, cookies, cakes, and gingerbread.
- Dill (herb): Dill can be purchased fresh or dried and in seed form. Dill has a mild, caraway-like flavor. It can be used in pickles, cheese dishes, salad dressings, dips, fish dishes, vegetables, sauerkraut, soups, salads, sauces and as garnish.
- Ginger (spice): Ginger is a plant whose root is used fresh and, when dried and ground, as a spice. It has a pungent, sweet aroma and a hot flavor. Ginger is used in meat, poultry, seafood and vegetable dishes, pickles, salad dressings, breads, cookies, pies, cakes, desserts, and fruits.