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5 can't-miss dried herbs: Cooking and Nutrition Tips

IF YOU HAVE BOTTLES OF HERBS sitting forgotten in your cupboard, it's time to get reacquainted with them. Remember that dried herbs don't last indefinitely; you should use them within a year of purchase. To make a fresh start, take all herbs out of your pantry, open them; close your eyes, and sniff. If you can't identify the herb, throw it out. When shopping for replacements, stick to sturdy, potent herbs like the ones on this page, because their flavors hold up well to the drying process. Tender, soft herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley are at their best when fresh.

1. OREGANO Used widely in Italian, Greek, and Mexican dishes. A natural in tomato sauce and on pizza. Excellent with eggplant or olives. Add it to oil and vinegar to dress a Greek salad.

2. THYME Used in classic Mediterranean dishes like ratatouille and olive tapenade. Goes well with egg dishes (particularly quiche) and carrots. Terrific with mushrooms and in cream of vegetable soup.

3. BAY LEAVES A basic flavoring for pickles and for boiled crab and shrimp. Use in soups, stews, and bean dishes. Flavor the cooking water for carrots, potatoes, and poached fish. Use leaves whole and remove them before serving.

4. ROSEMARY Often sprinkled on focaccia. Goes well with iamb and pork dishes. Has an affinity for garlic, lemon, and chicken. Use sparingly, because its pinelike flavor can be overpowering.

5. MARJORAM Related to oregano, but milder and sweeter. Delicious with peas, potatoes, onions, and zucchini. Add it to clam chowder and poultry stuffing. Mix it with butter to melt over chicken or fish.

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