Who would have ever thought that a dried leaf could become a popular flavoring ingredient? I guess I'm not surprised because nature has given us so many wonderful herbs and spices to create the most marvelous dishes. I'm talking about the bay leaf also known as bay laurel, which is of an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region.
The two most common bay leaves used in cooking are the Turkish bay, and the other is the Californian bay (not referring to the Bay area folks). Both may look similar and smell the same but they have very distinct flavors. The slender Californian is 2 to 3 inches long, and has a prominent menthol fragrance, whereas the oval-shaped Turkish bay has a more subtle flavor and is 1 to 2 inches long. Due to the strength of the California bay, it can dominate other ingredients so it is best to use it in recipes that do not require a long cooking process, like in marinades.
Bay leaves are good to use in the fresh and dried forms. However, there is a trade-off -- even though the dried herb can lose some of its warm aroma, it has a less bitter taste than the fresh leaf and intensifies the flavor. You can further tease out the natural flavors of the bay leaf, especially when braising, dry-roasting or simmering during the cooking process.Also, sauting the bay leaf in oil is a great way to infuse the oil before cooking plus it will heighten the taste of the food.
Typically the whole bay leaf is used to impart flavor into a dish and then removed before serving. The reason for removing the leaf is because it can be sharp and abrasive enough to irritate the digestive system. Grounding the leaves can also be used to add a more potent flavor to food so use a light amount.
I like using Turkish bay leaf as it adds a wonderful flavor to roasted potatoes or squashes, and just about any kind of soup recipes. It also works well in slow simmering beans, and in most grain dishes. Bay leaves can be used as a rub or marinade with a wide variety of meats, as well as for fish preparations, especially fish stews.A great example of the many uses of Bay leaf is in the classic French bouquet garni, where the leaf is an essential ingredient tied in a little bundle along with fresh thyme, marjoram, and parsley to infuse flavor into a dish and then removed before serving; it is most commonly used in stocks, and pickling spice mixes.
You will find bay leaves in the exotic cuisine of the Mediterranean, the curries of India, the Moroccan tagines, and Turkish lamb dishes along with other essential spices and herbs that are incorporated in making the world's most popular dishes.
Using bay leaves can add such a bold flavor to any dish. I quite like using it in stews, sauces and soups. Here's a simple recipe for making a tasty lentil dish: Brown Lentils - click on link.