The most fun assignment, ever, has me immersing my nose in the scent of basil tonight. We're assigned about 40 herbs and spices to observe, smell, and taste. Then we describe, in table format, each of these attributes for each herb and spice. Having heard about this assignment before starting the culinary program, I knew I'd be looking forward to it. However, I was unprepared for the intensity each herb and spice would present as I became more intimately acquainted with them. Want to try it? Go to your cupboard and put a large of pinch of basil in a small bowl. Stick your nose in there. What do you smell? What words come to mind? Are you surprised at all? I was. I don't even want to ruin it for you right now by planting ideas in your head, so if you feel like telling me what you smell (and taste!), please do! I'd love to compare notes with you. I felt like I knew basil so well, and yet I felt tonight like I was really smelling it for the first time, knowing that I would need to describe it. And who takes a pinch of dried herbs and puts it in her mouth to eat, straight? It's just a different experience.
We were given several weeks to do this assignment, and I'm glad, because more than three or four of these experiences at one time can be overwhelming to the nose and palate.
The other day I decided to observe allspice during the same session as cloves, since the scent of allspice was reminding me so much of cloves. Check that out! If you have them both in your cupboard, wouldn't it be fun to smell (and taste) the differences between the two, side by side?
I also did oregano and marjoram together, since they're related yet so different. Also, did you know that mace comes from the shell of nutmeg (and hence tastes a lot like it)? I did not know that before this assignment.
All in all, I feel like the assignment caused me to feel closer with each herb and spice in the chart, as if they were once acquaintances and now they're good friends. We've been through something together, and I've taken time to really get to know them a little better. Now I feel more inclined to include each of these in my dishes, just like you're more likely to trust your friend to help you rather than someone you just met. Hey, fennel, can you help me out with some heavy lifting on this dish's flavor? I know you're good at it. Thanks, buddy.