When I was in college, I spent part of a summer studying abroad in Provence, in the south of France. It was an incredible adventure, and so much of what I experienced there influences me to this day. The sun-drenched beaches, the dappled shade along a long avenue of plane trees, the aroma outside of a cafe, the beautiful language, the taste of a freshly-baked baguette, Salade Nicoise, or the rotisserie chicken I bought every week at the open-air market in the town square. The taste of pain au chocolat (a croissant stuffed with chocolate!).
Unsurprisingly, most of my memories eventually turn to the food. It was unbelievably good – the fruits perfectly ripe, the vegetables prepared in new and different ways (hot potatoes in a lettuce salad, anyone?). The seasonings were new and intriguing to me. I eventually learned that many things were seasoned with a blend of herbs called, somewhat prosaically, herbes de Provence. This blend is often used to season meats, but has many other uses.
When I returned home after that summer, I began preparing food myself in my tiny apartment kitchen, rather than eating in the school cafeterias. On one of my grocery runs, I tried to track down a jar of herbes de Provence, thinking it was a commonly available blend, but couldn’t find it.
Trying to replicate the flavors I enjoyed so much, I spent a bit of time online researching the ingredients and proportions commonly found in the seasoning blend. I bought a few of the rarer herbs, and mixed myself up a batch to use in focaccia bread. It was fantastic! And so was born my philosophy: if you can’t buy something, or can’t find something that meets your standards, look it up – and then make it yourself.
Here are a few easy spice and herb blends that I like to make. I always have these on hand – especially the taco seasoning. And I still make herbes de Provence to put in my focaccia bread. If you make a decent-sized batch, you can keep these in an airtight jar for six months or so.