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Guide To Using Fresh Herbs

This guide covers everything from popular and lesser known varieties of herbs, how to store, and creative ways to use them

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January 11, 2021
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Olivia Hayo

From simple garnishes to complex sauces, using fresh herbs add versatility and pack powerful punches of flavor into every bite. It can be as simple as sprinkling torn leaves onto prepared entrees and soups or chopping up to mix in salads and marinades.


 If you aren’t used to keeping fresh herbs on hand, try starting a few that are extremely versatile, like cilantro, which works in Mexican and Thai dishes, salsas, and as garnish on soups and dips. Rosemary has a good shelf life for an herb and can be used in marinades and dressing, a garnish on roasted vegetables, breads, and cocktails, or even dessert. Another popular herb perfect for Italian dishes from pesto and caprese salad, to a garnish for pizza and soups (hello, tomato basil), you can nearly always find a meal to use basil in. Other common herbs include:

  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Mint
  • Dill
  • Sage


Looking to amp up your herb game? Try one of these less common varieties in your next meal:

  • Lemongrass—a traditional ingredient in Thai dishes such as curry and sauces, fresh lemongrass can also be added to cocktails or simply boiled with water for a refreshing tea.
  • Chervil—this delicate herb is used in French preparations and makes a lovely addition to egg dishes and simple salads.
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves—also an important staple in Thai cuisines, these leaves have a strong aroma and citrus flavor. Mainly found in Asian markets, use kaffir lime leaves in dishes like this Tom Yum Nam Khon.
  • Vietnamese Coriander—similar to cilantro but easier to grow and more pungent than it's cousin, it stands out in spring rolls, potato salad, and Asian-inspired dishes.
  • Winter Savory—this peppery, spicy perennial is a great addition to soups and stews or to use as a rub for chicken and other proteins.

Credit: Olivia Hayo

Storing Herbs

Soft herbs are best stored like a flower bouquet—upright in a glass jar with about an inch of water at the bottom. Keep in the refrigerator. If your herbs are starting to wilt, consider a recipe like this Extra Herby Tabouli Salad that calls for a hefty portion.

Soft Herbs

  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Cilantro/Coriander
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Chervil
  • Winter Savory


Hard herbs, characterized by a woody stem, can simply be rolled up in a damp paper or dish towel and best kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Hard Herbs

  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Tarragon
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Chives
  • Lemongrass

Credit: iStock.com/ChamilleWhite
Credit: iStock.com/Nungning20

Freezing Herbs

Whole herbs

Some herbs can simply be washed and stored in an airtight container in the freezer—rosemary, sage, and thyme in particular. Slice lemongrass and chives before freezing.


Herbs in water

This technique is best for softer herbs, such as basil, cilantro and parsley. Wash and chop the herbs as if you are going to use them in a dish. Add to an ice cube tray or a small mason jar and mix with water. 


Pureed herbs

Works great for soft herbs as well. Basil can be turned into pesto; oregano and parsley can also be blended. Puree about one cup of fresh herbs with 1/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor and transfer to an ice cube tray or mason jar. Use in any dish that welcomes oil.


Credit: Olivia Hayo
Credit: iStock.com/SilviaJansen

Creative Uses For Herbs


Infused Oil

Replace regular olive oil with an infused version. Blend basil and olive oil together in a food processor or blender then simmer briefly over the stove, strain, and store in an airtight jar. For a rosemary oil, follow the same steps minus the blending. 


Jam 

Steam garlic cloves and herbs, lightly saute with olive oil, then stir in salt and other desired seasonings for a savory spread. Go even further with this savory herb jelly.


Refreshments

Muddle soft herbs such as basil or mint for cocktails or mocktails by gently mashing them with sugar at the bottom of the glass (use the end of a wooden utensil). Boil leaves in water to make tea or simply add fresh herbs to sparkling water for a spa-inspired refreshment. 


Compound Butter

This recipe blends butter, mixed herbs, minced garlic, lemon, and salt. Transfer mixture to a sheet of plastic wrap, roll and shape into a cylinder and secure both ends. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. You can also 


Salt 

Add four parts herb and one part coarse salt to a food processor along with some garlic. Pulse until finely chopped. Store in an airtight jar immediately or spread mixture on a baking sheet and let dry for two days, turning occasionally.


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