It's the perfect time to start using new thyme recipes

Editor's Note: Our "Spice of the Month" series is a monthly look at how to spice up your cooking.

It's true - we like thyme not only for its flavor, but also because of the seemingly endless pun potential of its name.

But really, is there a better time than the beginning of the year to use a traditional herb in some new dishes? That's what we thought. Now is the perfect time for thyme.

All About Thyme

•Where it comes from: In the culinary world, only two types of the more than 100 varieties of thyme are most commonly used. Garden thyme comes from a small shrub, which typically has stalks no higher than a foot, while lemon thyme comes a from a similar, but smaller, plant.

•Forms: Fresh thyme can typically be found in bunches, while dried thyme is available in both whole and ground forms.

•How it's used: Thyme works in soups, stews, casseroles and most meat dishes. Its

flavor pairs particularly well with chicken and also adds to meatloaf and sausage. Thyme can also be used with tomatoes, in potato salad and in rich sauces and gravies.

•What it goes with: This herb can be combined with bay leaves, basil, mint, nutmeg, rosemary and sage.

•How it should be stored: Bunches of fresh thyme can be refrigerated for about a week. If fresh thyme gets too moist, its leaves will blacken. Sprigs can be frozen with water in ice cube trays and kept for months. Quality dried thyme leaves should not have stems attached. Dried thyme can be stored in an airtight container for up to two years.

•What you might not know: Thyme has been used for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, thyme was used in the embalming process. The Greeks used the phrase "to smell of thyme" as a compliment. Romans used thyme in their alcoholic beverages.

Source: "The Spice and Herb Bible" by Ian Hemphill, with recipes by Kate Hemphill (Robert Rose, $24.95)

Turkey Meat Loaf

In this recipe, kamut cereal, a type of whole-grain cereal, is used instead of standard bread crumbs. The herb mix, which includes thyme, adds flavor to this dish.

1 cup kamut flakes cereal, crushed with fingers

2 pounds ground turkey breast

1 cup scallions, sliced

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 small onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

1 egg

1⁄2 teaspoon thyme

1⁄2 teaspoon marjoram

1⁄2 teaspoon oregano

1⁄2 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat an 8-inch loaf pan with olive oil cooking spray. In large bowl, combine all ingredients together, mixing until completely combined. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for an hour and 15 minutes or until turkey temperature reaches 165 F.

Serves four.

Source: Whole Foods, www.wholefoods.com

Vegetable Pilaf

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 cups coarsely chopped fresh broccoli

3 medium carrots, julienned

1 large onion, chopped

11⁄2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

3 garlic cloves, minced

3⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme

3⁄4 teaspoon dried basil

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

5 cups cooked brown rice (11⁄2 cups rice uncooked, prepared in chicken broth)

1⁄2 cup toasted pecans

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large pan, heat the oil until hot. Add the broccoli, carrots and onion. Cook and stir for 5 to 7 minutes or until the broccoli and carrots are soft and the onion is beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms, garlic, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Add the rice and pecans. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring until well blended and thoroughly heated. Just before serving, sprinkle with cheese if desired.

Note: To toast pecans, place them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 5 to 7 minutes or until the nuts are beginning to darken and become fragrant.

Serves 10 to 12.

Source: "The Blue Willow Inn: Bible of Southern Cooking" by Louis and Billie Van Dyke (Rutledge Hill Press, $24.99)