Learning to cook with fresh herbs has changed the way that I cook, and I experience the art of cooking, being rather inexpensive, especially if you grow them at home; fresh herbs are a great way to liven up any dish. They really can make an average dish into a much more exciting dish with little effort.
How to Cooking with Fresh Herbs
When I first started cooking using fresh herbs, I made all sorts of mistakes since all the herbs looked the same to me, and some seemed to be overpowering. It can be a little terrifying, but I will take you through everything that you need to know about fresh herbs in this quick guide so that you can impress everyone, you know.
Common Fresh Herbs
About half a dozen herbs are stocked on the shelves at your supermarket, but there are a lot more options if you grow them yourself. Below are the top twelve herbs and tips on how to use them.
Marjoram in the mint family, there are 2,000 different varieties of mint, with spearmint being the most common. The flavor is described as smooth and bright with a eucalyptus characteristic. To release the flavor, mint is bruised or muddled, used as a garnish.
Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley
Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley is a common herb recognized for its palate-cleansing astringency and a hint of lemon pepper. Add the whole leaves into salads or chop to use as a garnish. Stems hold full-bodied flavor and are used in soups and stocks but are harsh if uncooked.
Thyme is a low-growing bushy herb that has tough leaves. There is a distinct methanol smell, deep grassy taste with a hint of Lemon. Typically is added into a dish early, and you can either strip the leaves or use whole sprigs in soups and stocks.
Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley; this herb has soapy, fragrant, and peppery notes. The cooking of this herb kills all the flavor, so it’s mostly used as a garnish. Stems and leaves can be chopped and dried, and coriander is the name of the dried seeds.
Traditional Curly Parsley
Traditional Curly Parsley has a peppery mild earth tone, simple vegetal flavor than the Italian flat-leaf version. If this herb is uncooked, it has a plasticky quality to it, so it is best to allow it to cook for a long time when used in soups and sauces.
Basil a family member of the mint; it’s an annual herb with tender leaves that are pointed oval-shaped. Basil is very sweet-smelling. Basil grows all over the world but Native to India.
Frequently the main part in Italian recipes and Thai and Vietnamese cooking, Basil’s somewhat spicy flavor is perfect with chicken, fish, stews, pasta, and salads. Additional well-liked use for Basil is in an Italian sauce called pesto, which has olive oil and pine nuts blended all together
The Dill fronds are slightly harsh with a refreshing lemony taste and a smell like caraway seeds. Pairs flawlessly with cucumber, both pickled and fresh. Best used at the end, when the dish is finished cooking.
Oregano is a wholesome and substantial perennial herb with fuzzy stems that look like spades. It is a mint family and is described as having an earthy, musty, and spicy bite. Stems should be discarded and the leaves chopped when cooking.
Tarragon, the small-leafed herb, is known as “little dragon” in France because it has a fiery quality. It has a mouth-numbing anesthetic quality and sweet-orange anise smell.
Rosemary an Evergreen-like herb with a noticeable pine aroma. Used in small quantities, it has a taste. However, too much can be like Menthol medicine, “Vicks Vapor Rub.” Either strip the leaves and chop or use them in the last thirty minutes.
Sage is used in everything from sausage to Thanksgiving dinner. It has an earth tone taste with floral flavor with an aromatic bite. Because it has a cottony feel when raw, I like to cook it before use in my recipes.
Tips When Cooking with Fresh Herbs
Don’t think it matters when you chop your basil or how you measure fresh herbs? Here are some important tips you should know when working with herbs.
Cutting Fresh Herbs
Some herbs can be cut in advance, and it does not affect the quality of the herb. However, there are a couple of herbs that become unappetizing if chopped ahead of time.
Cilantro will develop a soapy taste, basil will turn black and slimy, and scallion (although not a true herb but treated as one, will also have a soapy taste. Best to serve all three immediately after chopping.
Tear or Chop Fresh Herbs
Some recipes will call for chopped, and some will call for torn herbs because they help release the natural oils and increase the flavor. After making two versions of black bean salad with cilantro and a quick tomato sauce with basil, taste testers preferred the chopped herb versions over the torn versions.
Chopping disperses the flavor more evenly, and tearing can leave an overwhelming taste. In other words, if you want a pervasive flavor, use chopped herbs.
Important to Measure Herbs
The best way to get the best weight is to lay the herbs flat into the measuring cup and press down slightly. You do not want to pack the herbs because that can lead to bruising. Just press down enough so that there are no large pockets of air.
How to Keep Basil Green
There’s no way to get around it, but pesto looks much better when first made. Over time that bright green color will turn into a muddy army green color. So how do you prevent this?
One way is to blanch the basil for 30 seconds, then place it into ice-cold water. This method prevents the basil from turning brown when exposed to air. Another way is to add a bit of lemon juice.
How to Measure Fresh Herbs
Herbs come in all sorts of sizes, weights, and shapes, so if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup basil, how many ounces should you buy? Here is a quick measuring chart to help:
|Wh. Leaves Per ½ Oz.||Fine chop Leaves Per ½ Oz.|
|Thyme, Rosemary||½ C.||2-2½ Tbsp.|
|Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Tarragon, Mint, Basil||¾ C.||3 Tbsp.|
|Other: Chives||N/A||4 Tbsp.|
|Oregano, Marjoram, Sage||¾ C.||5 Tbsp.|
Substituting Dried for Fresh Herbs
Before your fresh herbs are ready for use, it may be tempting to substitute dry herbs for fresh ones. But how does this affect the cooking?
I did some research and purchased fresh and dry versions of various herbs. I made five recipes using fresh for one version and dry for another and compared the taste. The majority of tasters preferred the fresh because the dried seemed to have lost some of its flavors.
The dried seemed stale and/or dusty upon taste. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, tasted bright and clean. Dried oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary seemed to be passable using either preparation in recipes that called for long cook times and a lot of liquid.
Some of the flavor components are stable, which means they can keep flavor even after drying and cooking.
Other flavor compounds are volatile, which means they lose flavor easily during this process. Delicate herbs are more volatile, so they are better fresh, and sturdier herbs can be used in either form.
Recipes with a lot of liquid can also rehydrate the cells in those herbs so they can release more aroma. No matter the recipe, dry herbs will reduce dust and stale quality slightly because of the drying process.
The big takeaway from this research is that if a recipe calls for delicate herbs, it is best to stick to fresh herbs. However, if the recipe calls for sturdier herbs, substituting dried herbs is perfectly acceptable.
Dried herbs are strongly potent compared to fresh, so you should use 1 part dry herbs to 3 part fresh herbs to achieve the same result.
Preparation Techniques and Guidelines
I learn some techniques when cooking with fresh herbs that are important for you to know and understand as you work through this guide and continue cooking at home.
Washing and Storing Fresh Herbs
Rinse herbs under the sink and pat dry with a paper towel or spin them in a salad spinner. Basil, parsley, dill, tarragon, and cilantro can be stored in two ways.
You can place them upright in a cup of water at room temperature, or wrap them in a barely damp paper towel, place them in a zipper sealed plastic bag, and store them in the fridge.
For herbs with a woody stem like thyme, rosemary, mint, oregano, marjoram, sage, and bay leaves, you can put them in a zipper-lock bag and place them in the fridge. Bay leaves can also be stored in the freezer.
To save your leftover herbs and stems, you can put them in zipper-lock bags or ice cube trays and save them in the freezer.
Preparing Fresh Thyme
If the thyme has tender stems, chop down the leaves and stem with your chef’s knife until you reach the tough bottom portions. Discard the tough portions.
For thyme that is more woody, hold the stems at the top and run your other thumb and forefinger down the stem to pull away from the smaller leaves and smaller, tender offshoots. Gather the pieces of thyme into a pile in the middle of the cutting board.
Use your chef’s knife to mince the thyme by rocking your knife back and forth over the thyme. Regather and repeat until finely minced.
How to Chiffonading Fresh Basil
Wash and dry the basil, and then stack similar-sized leaves onto the cutting board. Roll the leaves lengthwise into a small bundle.
The leaves should be secure but not crushed because they can bruise the leaves. Slice across the bundle, spacing cuts 1/4 inch apart. If need be, use a ruler to check your spacing.
To avoid having a soggy chiffonade with bruised basil, use a very sharp knife.
Dehydrate Fresh Herbs in a Microwave
Only use this method if you are using hearty herbs like bay leaf, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, and marjoram.
Tender herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley can combust in the microwave. Line a microwave-safe plate with paper towels and place the herbs in a single layer on the plate.
Microwave until the herbs look slightly dehydrated, about 1 to 3 minutes. Be sure to watch carefully as they cook. Remove the plate from the microwave and let it cool to room temperature.
When completely cooled, crumble or leave whole. Store in a tightly sealed plastic bag until use.
How to Make a Bouquet Garni
Gather the herbs and spices and place them in a pile. I tie them together, so they are easy to add and retrieve from a pot. Cheesecloth is the best to contain the small components in the bouquet garni.
If you don’t have cheesecloth, you can use a coffee filter tied around the herbs to hold them together. Place your bundle in a pot and use it as directed in your recipe.
When the stew is finished, gently squeeze the bundle’s sides to extract all of the flavors before taking it out of the pot.
Growing Your Own Fresh Herbs
Growing herbs yourself has a lot of great benefits. Cutting the sprigs right before use gives you maximum flavor and nutrients. Also, you do not waste as much because you only take what you need for that moment.
Every plant is different and requires different harvesting methods. It’s always a good idea to snip the leaves with scissors instead of pulling with your fingers. Remove older leaves first so that growth can be stimulated. Then work to the younger leaves.
Herbs are a great way to spice up any dish and a great way to add nutrients into a dish. With this guide, you will be able to make any dish better by using herbs. Even if it does not come out and expected the first time around, try again, and eventually, you will make dishes that will impress everyone, you know.
Try expanding the types of herbs that you use so that you can experience all the different flavor profiles that exist in the world and not get stuck on using the same herbs over and over again. Even adding one extra herb will make all the difference.