I remember someone telling me, many years ago, that once I started cooking with fresh herbs, I’d never go back … I didn’t “get it” back then. I wondered, what could be so great about some little green leaves?
Now, depending on the season, I always have a stash of herbs in my garden, on my window sill or in my refrigerator. I’m thrilled that Spring has wrapped her lovely warm arms around us. I love seeing my herbs leaping, in growth, literally by the day! Seeing them leap makes my heart leap and I have to admit that “somebody” many years ago was perfectly correct. Fresh herbs do add amazing flavor to just about everything. And I never want to go back.
I can’t imagine cooking without fresh herbs.
I love the fabulous flavor and extra special eye-appeal that a sprinkle of fragrant green herbs can bring to a simple meal.
I’ve learned to use them quite extensively in cooking as well as for garnishes; but there was a time when even the thought of fresh herbs had me quite intimidated. I liked the idea, but had no clue how to incorporate them into my daily culinary endeavors.
Over the years, and with lots of experimentation, I’ve grow much more “herb-proficient”. I’d like to share a few tips to help you along the way.
- Start with a few basic, simple herbs like basil, thyme, and/or parsley.
- Purchase one type of fresh herb each week when grocery shopping. Look for ways to use this weekly treasure in a variety of recipes. Do an online search for recipes that include this herb. Add a sprinkle to salads, sandwiches, omelets, soups, and pizzas. It won’t take you long to discover what combinations you enjoy together.
- You’ll find that bland foods, like potatoes, eggs, bread, crackers, etc. will combine well with many different herbs. A simple but comprehensive guide for pairing herbs and food can be found here.
- Add fresh herbs just before the end of the cooking time to retain the wonderful flavor.
- When substituting fresh herbs for the dried variety, a general rule of thumb is to use three times the amount. For example if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, substitute 3 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves. Dried herbs are much more potent and concentrated than fresh.
- When you bring fresh herbs home from the market, remove any rubber bands or twist ties. This bunching together will hold moisture in the herb stems that causes rotting. Hardy herbs, like parsley, thyme, cilantro and rosemary can be rinsed right away and spun dry in a salad spinner. After spinning, spread them out on several thicknesses of paper towel and allow them to air dry for 10-15 minutes. Next, gently wrap them in the paper towels and store in a zippered plastic bag. Change the paper towels each day. This will greatly extend the life of the herbs. For tender herbs like basil and mint, wait until just before using to rinse and spin or air dry.
- Remove any tough, woody stems. Use your sharpest knife for chopping herbs to prevent bruising of the leaves.
- Try your hand at growing your own herbs during the warm months. Fresh herbs are easy to grow, but most of them like regular watering and fertilization. If you’re anything like me, and tend to be a bit lazy and quite forgetful when it comes to watering that can be a problem, especially here in North Carolina where the summers are hot and dry. My husband Scott has come up with a great solution we use to ensure a bumper crop of healthy herbs all summer long. You can check out his simple irrigation technique here: “How to Have Endless Fresh Herbs without Endless Watering”. It seems almost too good to be true but believe me, it works!
- During growing season, I like to clip bunches of fresh herbs, bring them inside and rinse them with cool water. I place them in small jars or vases and keep them on my kitchen window sill. That way, whenever I want to use them, they’re clean and ready instantly. I don’t even have to get my feet wet, walking out to the deck or garden.
- Herbs like basil, rosemary, and mint can be easily propagated. Purchase one plant and end up with enough to supply yourself and all of neighbors with plants of their own. Check out the step-by-step tutorial here.
Here are a few of our favorite Café recipes that utilize fresh herbs.
There are a zillion more recipes featuring fresh herbs on here on the blog. I find them quite irresistible, adding amazing flavor to almost any recipe. You will too. Once you start using these magical little leaves, you’ll never want to be “herbless.” Bon Appetit!