Spices create variety in the foods we eat. Although many people commonly use the terms herbs and spices interchangeably, they are different from one another. Herbs are leaves taken from herbaceous plants; spices are taken from the roots, flowers, seeds, fruits or bark of plants. Spices add distinct flavours to many foods, and a simple ham and potato soup can take on exotic flavours with the right combination of herbs and spices.
Nutmeg is a spice used throughout the world in sweet and savoury dishes and is a common addition to potato dishes, cured meats and soups. A little nutmeg adds a distinct dimension to ham and potato soup. A little nutmeg adds subtle flavour but it can be very overwhelming if used in excess. Pair nutmeg with other aromatics, such as leeks, onions and carrots.
Pork and cinnamon, a spice made from bark, are a delicious combination, especially with the addition of sweet fruits. A soup with a bit of a sweeter taste can be made from ham and potatoes with peeled, chopped apples and cinnamon. You also can add dried cranberries, dried apricots or raisins with or as a replacement for the apples.
Cloves, a spice made from bulbs, are a common addition to ham on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. Reminiscent of holiday feast is a broth-based soup of ham and potatoes simmered with clove and a squeeze of fresh orange juice to finish it off.
Coriander and fennel, both herbs, are a wonderful combination. Fennel has a liquorice flavour that pairs wonderfully with pork. Add thinly sliced fennel and a teaspoon of coriander seeds with other aromatics (such as garlic, onion and carrots), and sauté with white wine before continuing with your ham and potato soup.
Garlic sometimes seems to be in a category of its own, but it is classified as a spice. Roasted garlic adds rich, sweet flavour to a creamy ham and potato soup. You can make your own roasted garlic by placing some peeled, whole garlic cloves in an oven-safe dish. Cover with olive oil and cook at 176 degrees C. for one hour. Mash a few and add them at the very end for added depth of flavour. Fresh garlic can also be used; sauté it with your aromatics when you begin the soup.
The seeds of the dill weed have a very distinct and strong flavour. This herb has many similar flavours to fennel and anise seed, which both have hints of liquorice. Use dill seeds sparingly in addition to leeks and white beans for a hearty European soup that could be served as an appetizer or as a main course with a salad or sandwich.