Ahh, today was sunny and warm, and got me thinking about planting my herb garden. Of course, it’s still too early to plant — the best advice I have ever gotten about herbs is to wait until the night time temperatures no longer drop below 50°F. You are setting yourself up for failure if your plant too soon.
But, that doesn’t stop the imagination! Over the next few weeks, I will fill you in on growing your own herbs, and how to utilize them to the MAX! Whether you grow your own herbs, or buy them at the market, you’ll want to get the most possible usage and flavor from them. So, lets start with the basics:
selecting, washing, and storing herbs
You can grow fresh herbs in a garden, window box, or even small flower pots and you’ll never have to worry about having too much or too little on hand. If you’re selecting herbs at a grocery store or farmer’s market, look for ones that look fresh, are not wilted, and smell fragrant. Avoid herbs with black markings and try to taste a bite to be sure of what you’re getting.
To wash particularly sandy herbs such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, fill a bowl with cool water, swish the herb around in it to let the sand sink to the bottom, remove the herbs, and pour out the bowl of water. Rinse the bowl to remove any excess sand and repeat until you’re certain that it’s clean.
There are specific ways to store certain herbs, but generally you want to keep them hydrated. In order to do so, place herbs in a cup of water in the fridge or in a plastic bag wrapped in damp paper towels.
dried vs. fresh herbs
Because of their more intense flavor dried herbs can be substituted for fresh herbs at a ratio of 1 to 3. While dried herbs are convenient and can be great for longer cooking times, they don’t generally have the same purity of flavor as fresh herbs and they do go stale quickly. Ensure dried herbs are still fresh by checking if they are green and not faded, and crushing a few leaves to see if the aroma is still strong. Always store them in an air-tight container away from light and heat.
how to use fresh herbs
Herbs can be the star of a dish (think of insalata caprese with basil, mozzarella, and tomatoes or try to imagine salsa without cilantro), or they can add subtle layers of flavor which serve to highlight your other ingredients. Because the flavors of herbs can vary widely from season to season and plant to plant, always taste a bit before you decide how much to add.
Delicate fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, chives, dill, coriander, etc. are generally chopped, snipped, or torn and added at the end of cooking to maximize their flavor impact. Heartier herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary can be added earlier in the cooking process to allow their flavors to completely infuse your dish. These are often added whole and removed before serving.
A kitchen pantry wouldn’t be complete without herbs, spices, and spice mixtures. But understanding how and when to use them can be pretty daunting, even for experienced cooks. Whether you’re completely clueless or just need a refresher course, our herb and spice guide will help you add some flavor to your favorite meals.
Keep watching for information on each of the herbs I love to grow and cook!