Hear! Hear! for Fresh Herbs

Basil

Basil growing outside my front door … ahhh!

“An herb is the friend of  physicians and the praise of cooks.” ~Charlemagne

If you’d like to “garden” but feel you don’t have room, try planting herbs. They’re  like mini-vegetables, easily grown in a pot, and very forgiving if you occasionally neglect them.

Best yet, they add flavor and color to foods without adding sugar and fat calories or salt. Here’s a potato I “nuked” in the microwave and topped with yogurt, presented with and without chopped chives. That little sprinkle of green makes all the difference in appearance and flavor!

baked potato with and without chives

A sprinkling of herbs adds color and flavor.

Looking for a spot for growing herbs? They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. No place to plant? Put them in a pot.

Thyme growing in a pot

Thyme is a hardy perennial herb and looks beautiful grown in a pot.

Add a little extra color by combining herbs with a flower that requires the same amount of sunlight, type of soil, and watering schedule. Check with your local Cooperative Extension office or garden store for more information about plants that go together well in your area. Find your local Extension office at this link: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

parsley and straw flowers

Italian (flat-leaf) parsley and straw flowers combined in a pot.

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

For best quality, fresh herbs can be stored in a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for about a week. Perforated plastic bags (bags with small holes in them) allow some air to move in and out of the bag yet retain most of the moisture in the bag. This helps prevent condensation within the bag and reduces shriveling. Either purchase perforated bags or follow these directions from University of Wisconsin Extension to make  a perforated bag:

“You can make holes using a standard paper punch or a sharp object such as a pen, pencil, or knife. Punch holes approximately every 6 inches through both sides of the bag. If using a knife to create the openings, make two cuts — in an ‘X’ shape — for each hole to ensure good air circulation.”

Wash herbs in a clean colander under running water, tossing them around so all surfaces are rinsed well. Consumer Reports recommends, “If greens are particularly dirty, loosen dirt and sand by swishing them in a clean bowl of water (not the sink), then rinsing.” I like to use the removable strainer basket from my salad spinner for washing herbs. And, then use the basket to spin my herbs dry in my salad spinner.

Wash herbs under running water

Wash herbs under running water just before using them.

Pat herbs dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner. Before buying a salad spinner, give it a spin at the store to test if it spins easily.

Drying herbs in a salad spinner

Drying herbs in a salad spinner.

A quick way to cut herbs is with a kitchen scissors. For some dishes, you can cut the herb directly over the food itself.

snipping chives

Snipping chives with a kitchen scissors.

Some general guidelines for cooking with fresh herbs are:

  •  Use three times as much as of a dried herb. For example, if a recipe called for 1 teaspoon of a dried herb, use about 3 teaspoons of a fresh herb. The drying process reduces the size of dried herbs, making their flavor more concentrated.
  • Add more delicate herbs a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle on food just before it is served. Examples include basil, chives, dill leaves, parsley, and mint.
  • Less delicate herbs can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking. Examples include oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage.
Basil added to a cooked food

Add more delicate herbs, such as basil, a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle on the food just before serving.

For many recipes, it’s not important to be exact with the amount of an herb. Just sprinkle in a little for color and flavor.  Popular herb and food combinations include:

  • Basil: A natural snipped in with tomatoes; terrific in fresh pesto; other possibilities include pasta sauce, peas, zucchini
  • Chives: Dips, potatoes, tomatoes
  • Mint: Carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, tabbouleh, tea
  • Oregano: Peppers, tomatoes
  • Parsley: The curly leaf is the most common, but the flat-leaf or Italian parsley is more strongly flavored and often preferred for cooking. Naturals for parsley include potato salad, tabbouleh, egg salad sandwiches
  • Rosemary: Chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes
  • Thyme: Eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoes
melon and mint

Add a pop of mint to dress up a fruit salad.

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success.” ~Henry David Thoreau

sage and coneflowers

Sage and coneflowers grace the table at an outdoor meal.

(For a printer-friendly copy of this information, use the “Print & PDF” button in the “Share this” section below this post. You can choose to remove images and parts of the post and also determine print size.)

References

Storing Fruits and Vegetables from the Home Garden. Roper, T., Delahaut, K., and Ingham, B., University of Wisconsin Extension. Retrieved 8/5/2012 at http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/A3823.pdf

ShopSmart Helps You Avoid Dangerous Food-Prep and Storage Mistakes. Consumer Reports. (6/12/2012) Retrieved 8/11/2012 at http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2012/06/my-entry-1.html

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