When you want to season a soup or a stew, bay leaf is almost mandatory. This pungent herb, picked from the bay tree, has been adding its distinctive flavor to foods for centuries.

Dried bay leaves should be used whole, but use them sparingly because their flavor is strong. And always remember to remove them before serving.

These three recipes (pictured at right) bring out the best in bay leaf. Try them and you'll agree!

"This one-dish meal pleases the meat-and-potato lovers in my family…and they also get their veggies," writes field editor Margaret Wagner Allen from Abingdon, Virginia of her Herbed Shepherd's Pie.

Colorful veggies combine with bay leaf and bacon in Creole Corn, a zippy Southern-style side dish from field editor Joyce Turley of Slaughters, Kentucky.

Betty Kleberger of Florissant, Missouri says, "This satisfying Turkey Barley Soup has an interesting blend of flavors…and it's good for you, too. It's a great way to use up leftover holiday turkey."