Unfortunately I haven’t managed to built my own herb garden I’m planning since forever but fortunately I have gained the habit of always having some fresh herbs on hand. My fridge is always stocked with chives, rosemary, thyme and dill. It can make such a big difference when cooking with fresh herbs. They jazz up every meal and they also give you a cool feeling of being more advanced in the kitchen. I wasn’t always comfortable with fresh herbs, they were intimidating to me, they required more preparation, I didn’t really know how to use fresh herbs and most of all sometimes I even couldn’t identify them. But that changed and now I’m in love and my shopping bag always smell so good when coming back from the farmers market. They are actually pretty easy to handle and even if it means a little bit more chopping, it’s definitely worth. As some of you might still fell about fresh herbs as I felt, I thought a small herbs 101 will change your mind and animate you to jump up from the computer and go buy some.
Pairs good with: eggs, salads, fish, potatoes & light meals I love to use chives with my scrambled eggs or to add them to dressings, especially when making dressings with yogurt.
Prep & Store: Chives’ long, hollow leaves can be just cut into small tubes. I prefer cutting them with scissors instead of a knife. Store loose in a plastic bag or box for up to one week in the fridge. You can also store them in a glass with a little bit water on the counter top.
Pairs good with: meat ( especially beef & lamb or grilled one), potatoes, beans, hearty stews or any kind of hearty meals. My favorite: roasted potatoes with rosemary, garlic and Parmesan.
Prep & Store: I’m not sure if it’s the right technique, but I just stripe off the needles from the steam with my fingers from the bottom to the top and mince them with a knife. And sometimes I use the whole needles. You can store rosemary in a plastic bag up to 2 weeks in your fridge.
Pairs good with: Dill loves fish, eggs and yogurt. It’s perfect for salad dressings and pickling. I always associate dill with scandinavian cuisine.
My favorite: Cucumber Salad with light dill-yogurt dressing. Also mixing it with some cream cheese is perfect for a spread. Or adding it to sauce hollandaise for salmon eggs benedict. Dill should be used mostly fresh as it looses it’s flavor when cooked.
Prep & Store: The feathery leaves can be just finely chopped and used as desired. I prefer to store the dill in a glass with water as it can get quickly wilted. How ever you store dill it will keep fresh for only about 3 days. So try to buy only the amount you need for a specific recipe. If you have leftovers you can chop them finely and freeze them in an airtight container.
Flavor: fresh, herbal flavor with some mint aroma
Pairs good with: chicken, all kind of roasted vegetables, soups, especially tomato soup, figs, peaches. My favorite: Sprinkle some minced thyme and honey on goat cheese. Or add whole springs while roasting carrots and beets.
Prep & Store: Thyme seams to be pretty sturdy. It can be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.
Flavor: Sage has a pungent flavor that can be described as minty and slightly bitter. So caution when using it.
Pairs good with: butternut squash, sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Sage makes a great pesto with pine nuts. My favorite: Pasta with browned butter and sage, sprinkled with some Parmesan.
Prep & Store: Remove the velvety leaves from the steam and use chopped of whole. Wrap sage loosely into paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the fridge for up to one week. Sage can also be frozen. You an also cover the leaves in olive oil and store them in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks and you will get sage infused oil to use in salads or for sauteeing.
FRENCH TARRAGON ( there are also German and Russian Tarragon, but I have never used them)
Flavor: Tarragon taste reminds of anise or licorice flavor. It can be strong, so use with care.
Pairs good with: Tarragon makes the most common appearance in sauce Bearnaise, but it also works well with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and in vinaigrette. My favorite: Adding some minced tarragon to tuna, egg or potato salad. Use Tarragon at the end of the cooking.
Prep & Store: Remove the leaves from the steam and chop it or use whole leaves. Tarragon can freeze super easy. Wrap it into paper towel and place it in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.
Flavor: Lemony, bright and intense aroma.
Pairs good with: I wasn’t always a fan of this herb, but I’m starting to use it more and more. You can find cilantro mostly in Asian and Latin American dishes. It works great with avocado, lime, chicken, fish, tomatoes, rice, coconut soup or curries, dressings and salads. My favorite: Definitely Cilantro-Yogurt dressing.
Prep & Store: Wash and dry before using. You can chop the leaves as well as the steams. Store cilantro in a glass with water for up to 10 days. Trim the ends before placing in water.
FLAT-LEAF OR ITALIAN PARSLEY
Flavor: Parsley tastes as parsley. I cannot think of any taste that describes parsley, it has it’s one unique flavor.
Pairs good with: Can you imagine vegetable soup or stock without parsley? Right, you cannot. It pairs great with peas, carrots, beets, eggplant and it makes great pesto ingredient. I love to use it in a vinaigrette with garlic, lemon and olive oil.
Prep & Store: Rinse the leaves, dry with a paper towel before using. Chop the leaves coarsely. You can also use the steams for cooking stocks. You can store parsley two ways. In the glass with water placed on the counter top or you can wrap parsley in a damp paper towel, place it in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Parsley will keep up fresh up to 7 days.
Tip: Difference between cilantro and parsley: I can only tell by smelling the leaves.
Flavor: sweet, recognizable summery flavor.
Pairs good with: tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. This two cannot without each other. Whether in salad, soup, pizza or sauce – they are a dream team. But you can also pair basil with eggplant, cheese, sea food, zucchini, sweet peppers. Basil is essential for a good pesto. My all time favorite use for basil is just to sprinkle a tomato soup with lots of whole basil leaves and grated parmesan.
Prep and Store: I just tear off the leaves, wash them if needed and torn them with my fingers. Most of the time I buy a pot of basil which can last for up to 2 weeks if you water it a bit every 3. days. When buying loose basil, I keep it refrigerated in dump paper towel.
Flavor: aromatic, fragrant flavor.
Pairs good with: soups, stews, potatoes, beans, rice, lentils and long cooking meals. Cannot imagine this vegetable soup with out bay leaves.
Prep & Store: Bay leaves are mostly found dry, but if you find some fresh, buy them and freeze. They have a much more intense flavor. Add some whole bay leaves to your dish, but remove before eating. You can store fresh bay leaves in a plastic bag up to 10 days.
To give you an overview here is a small herbs chart. I hope next time at the farmers market you will recognize the thyme with one eye closed. Surely, there are so many more herbs but these are the most common I use. What are your staple herbs?
Also some other helpful tips to handle fresh herbs…
– always rinse herbs before using not before storing.
– when placing herbs in the refrigerator, make sure to place them in the vegetable drawer as they can freeze easily.
– if you have leftovers and you know you are not going to use them, you can either dry or freeze them. When drying I simply wash, shake, remove the steams and place them on a kitchen towel layered baking sheet, dab gently with a paper towel and let them dry for few days. Store in a glass container. Crush dry herbs before using. When freezing I simply wash, shake and chop them finely, place them in an airtight container and freeze. Don’t thaw frozen herbs before using, add them frozen to the dish.
I have read so many tips on how to handle herbs, and some articles where so long, they made a whole science of it, I’m sure it probably all makes sense, but I prefer the easy way which works great for me – without loosing taste. So I hope this post motivates you to use more fresh herbs and if you have questions, tips or suggestion please share it with us in the comments. Can never have enough real life tips.