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Thursday
May032012

Fresh Herbs

To use fresh herbs, rinse, remove any woody stems, and chop--then add them to almost anything!  Use about three times as much fresh herbs to replace dried ones in a recipe, by volume.  Storage:  Most herbs keep up to a week in the refrigerator, stored in a plastic bag.  If they wilt a bit they'll still be OK; compost any that turn black or slimy.

Basil:  We grow and eat and sell so much basil that it has its own section.  Also, we consider it a vegetable more than an herb--who ever heard of using half a pound of one herb on three servings of pasta?  Anyway, look under "Basil."

Mint:  Make tea by using about a tablespoon of fresh mint per cup of boiling water.  Make it stronger and add ice for iced tea.  Mint leaves are also nice in salads, or chopped and added to cooked sugar snap peas.  And try mint in the green smoothie recipe, under "greens."

Italian Parsley or flat-leaf parsley:  This has more flavor than a curly parsley, and holds up well when cooked.  I love it in soups, and also added by the handful when making homemade hummus.  It dries well.

Cutting celery:  This looks very like Italian parsley; when in doubt, smell it.  Celery smells like celery.  You can use this herb any way you'd use regular celery in cooking, though it's a different shape; it's a bit stronger than stalk celery, and is especially good for cooking.

Chives have a mild onion flavor, best raw.  Try them mixed into cream cheese and spread on a bagel, or anywhere you want a fresh green onion flavor: egg salad, potato salad, baked potatoes, burritos...

Garlic chives are more garlicky than chives, but also mild, and are best lightly cooked--in omelets, stir fry, soup, or anywhere you'd use garlic.  (Chives have hollow leaves, like onions, and garlic chives have flat leaves, like garlic.)

Oregano is great anywhere you want that "pizza sauce" flavor.  It's also wonderful in pot roast, split pea soup, meat loaf, or minestrone.

Dill is sweet and aromatic.  We use it in egg salad, potato salad, homemade bread, and white bean soup.

Cilantro is traditional in both Mexican and Indian foods.  We eat it raw, as a topping for beans, curry, or chili, and of course it's great in salsa.  When it's abundant, we make cilantro chutney:  Chop about 2 cups (packed) fresh cilantro, 2 cloves garlic, a couple of tablespoons vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, salt, and a little water in a food processor until soupy.  This chutney is brilliant green and bright-flavored; it's good with Indian foods, and over fried sweet potatoes or potato cakes.  (Cilantro doesn't dry or freeze well; use it fresh.)

Sage is the classic flavor in Thanksgiving stuffing.  It's also good in squash soup, and as a seasoning for meatloaf or beef stew.

Mint and peppermint; lemon, lime, and holy basil:  These herbs make wonderful tea.  Lemon basil is our favorite for summer iced tea, with a peppery bite that makes it all the more refreshing.  Try your own combinations!

Herb Butter for biscuits or bread:  Blend 2 T or more of minced fresh herbs--dill and chives are especially good--into 1/2 cup butter.  Let stand for an hour for best flavor. 

Drying Herbs:  If you have a lot of fresh herbs, or just more than you can use right away, drying them is easy.  Most herbs dry well in a gas oven with the pilot light on, or an electric oven on the lowest setting (turn the knob lower than "warm" and see how low you can get) with the door a little open.  A fan will also work, if it's not too humid; in all cases, spread the herbs out on a screen, or hang them in small bunches, so they have plenty of airflow around them, and keep them out of sunlight.  When the herbs are very dry and brittle, strip the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container.  If you aren't sure they're utterly dry, keep them in the freezer to prevent mold.  Some people dry herbs in the microwave.