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Herb Guide

This page provides culinary tips for fresh herbs.
Don't forget to visit our Recipes page!

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

There are no hard and fast rules when cooking with fresh herbs. Start to experiment using small amounts to see what you like. Here are a few ideas that will help you get started:

*  Try not to mix two very strong herbs together. Try mixing one strong and one or more with milder flavors to complement both the stronger herb and the food.

*  Usually, the weaker the flavor of the food (like eggs), the less added herbs are required to get a nice balance of flavor.

*  Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, and powdered herbs are more concentrated than crumbled. Each herb is slightly different but a starting formula is: ¼ teaspoon powdered herbs is equaled to ¾ to 1 teaspoon crumbled or the equivalent of 2 to 4 teaspoons fresh.

*  If chopping fresh herbs, chop the leaves very fine because the more of the oils and flavor will be released.

*  Start sparingly with the amount of an herb used until you become familiar with it. The aromatic oils can be less than appetizing if too much is used.

*  Usually extended cooking times reduces the flavoring of herbs, so add fresh herbs to soups or stews about 45 minutes before completing the cooking time. For refrigerated foods such as dips, cheese, vegetables and dressings, fresh herbs should be added several hours or overnight before using. Note: Fresh Basil is an exception. If you add it to salad dressing overnight or longer, it becomes bitter.

*  For salsa, hot sauces and picante, add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs directly to the mixture.

*  Make herbal butters and cream cheeses by mixing 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs to ½ cup margarine, butter, cottage cheese, low fat yogurt or cream cheese. Let it set for at least an hour to blend the flavor; then taste test on a plain cracker or a melba round. You will gain a great feel for the dimensions of what the flavor will be good with by taste testing in this manner.

*  Flavor vinegar for use in cooking and in vinaigrettes. Bruise one cup of leaves for every 2 cups of white wine or delicate vinegar. Allow to steep for two weeks.

 

Basil

Basil

Flavor basil is considered one of the most important and highly used herbs in the culinary world and is popular in the cooking of many types of cuisine.

The strong, clove like flavor is essential to many Italian recipes and it is paired most often with tomatoes. Basil is primarily used in sauces, pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. It is also the main ingredient used in pesto.

Chives

Chives are a mild member herb of the onion family. Use it anywhere you want to add onion flavor without the harsh pungency of onion. Best if used fresh. Once you taste fresh chives, you will know there is no comparison of flavor to dried chives!  

Store fresh chives in damp paper towel in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can also chop fresh chives and freeze them with water in ice cube trays to use later when needed.

Chopped chives lift many foods above the ordinary. Sprink them on soups, salads, chicken, potatoes, cooked vegetables and egg dishes. Blend chopped chives with butter or cream cheese, yogurt sauces and baked potatoes. Add toward the end of cooking or as a garnish.

Cilantro

Cilantro

Cilantro is used in many cuisines around the world. Most notably it is used to enliven Mexican and South American food as well as Thai and Vietnamese.

This is a multiethnic herb that is used in everything from delicate Asian spring rolls to substantial Mexican dishes. Cilantro is the leaf part of the coriander plant. It's unique flavor is quite distinctive and can liven up even a simple chicken broth.

Cilantro has a faint overtone of anise and a somewhat delicate peppery taste. Use cilantro in tacos, salsas, soups, stews, chicken and rice, salads, tomato based sauces and as a garnish. Use sparingly.

Dill

Season fish. Use fresh dill in marinating fish, or lay sprigs of fresh dill on fish when you are baking or poaching it. Chopped fresh dill can be added to sauces for fish.

Make hot cabbage salad. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill leaves to your favorite hot cabbage salad recipe.

Make a cucumber sauce or vegetable dip by adding fresh chopped dill leaves to salad dressing, cream cheese, or sour cream.

Make a dilly of a potato salad by adding fresh chopped dill leaves to your favorite potato salad recipe.

Put the ends of fresh dill stems in a jar or pail of water as you would flowers in a vase until you are ready to use it. Place the jar or pail in a cool place. Change the water every other day. Dill will store in water for about 3 days. Wash the stems under cold running water and pick off any yellowed leaves just before you are ready to use it.

Fennel

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and is one of our oldest cultivated plants. It is both an herb and a spice. The stems and leaves are all edible. The spice comes from the dried seeds, the herb comes from the leaves and the stalk and root are the vegetable.

The bulb may be used in antipasto platters and has an anise flavour, and can be eaten as a vegetable, cooked or raw. The stems may be chopped and added to salads. The leaf which is feathery, similar to dill weed, has a liquorice flavor and is commonly used in fish dishes. The leaves may be chopped and used in soups, with fish or added to salads. The seeds may be used in pickles, tomato sauces, sausages and pickles. The flowers may also be used in herbal vinegars and salads. Fennel leaves should be added at the last minute when cooking to retain the best flavor.

The seed is similar to anise seed, but sweeter and milder. It pairs well with fish, but Italians also like to add it to sauces, meats & sausages. If you are familiar with the taste, it is probably from having it in commercially prepared sausages. Add the seeds to sauces, breads, savory crackers and water for poaching fish.

Braising is an effective way of cooking with fennel. Cut the bulbs in quarters, from tip to root, and remove just enough of the core, so that the quarters still hold together. Then melt some butter in a frying pan, add the fennel plus chicken or vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover and braise for 20-25 minutes until tender. It is particularly nice with fish or pork.

In salads, try adding finely chopped, raw fennel to potato salad or coleslaw, to add crunch and a mild aniseed flavor. Also sliced fennel can be used in the poaching water, when poaching or steaming fish. Or it can also add it to homemade fish stock.

Lemongrass

Use the entire stalk, which will be cut and prepped in different ways depending on the dish. Keep pieces small for eating and larger for flavoring. (The tough, bigger pieces of lemon grass are meant to flavor dishes. These larger pieces generally are not eaten. Consider straining large pieces out before serving. However, some people enjoy sucking on them for their flavor.) Discard the dry, outermost stalks and cut off the top third of the inner stalks. Trim each root tip until the purple rings are visible.

Pair lemon grass with other spices and ingredients to add exotic flavor to recipes. Lemongrass is often coupled with coconut milk, chiles, cilantro, and garlic.

Bruise the bulb by smashing it with the side of a wide knife or cleaver, then mince the bulb for use in a variety of recipes. Bruising will free the aromatic oils for cooking.

Add very thin slices of lemon grass to salads. Slicing thinly breaks the stalk's tough fibers so that the pieces can be chewed and swallowed with ease.

Cut the bulb diagonally in rounds measuring about 1/4 inch long. Add the rounds to stir fries.  

Slice the stalk at an angle to create sections approximately 1 inch in length. Bruise the pieces and toss them into simmered recipes such as soups.  

Make a paste by pounding thin slices of lemon grass. Add the paste to curry dishes and other recipes.  

Make tea with lemon grass by steeping pieces in hot water.

Keep fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Store it in a plastic bag that's securely sealed. You can freeze lemon grass for as long as 6 months.

Lemon Verbana

If you like lemon, this is the herb for you! It has a very lemony taste without any bitterness. Chefs value this herb as a companion to citrus lemon because its flavor holds up in cooking.

Great for fruit salads, jam, jelly, and candy. Sprinkle over salads and vegetables for a wonderful lemony flavor. Use to create flavor in stuffing for meat or poultry. Stir into cottage cheese. Makes a refreshing tea in combination with mint or alone. Wonderful as a garnish for iced tea.


Marjoram

Marjoram is an herb that has a mild, sweet flavor similar to oregano (it is closely related) with perhaps a hint of balsam. It is said to be “the meat herb" but it compliments all foods except sweets.

Marjoram because it is more delicate should be added toward the end of cooking so its flavor is not lost. Marjoram goes well with pork and veal and complements stuffing for poultry, dumplings and herb scones or breads.

Mint

Spearmint and peppermint are most commonly used in cooking, peppermint to complement savoury dishes, vegetables, particularly peas, and fruits and chocolate.

Mint is used for seasoning lamb, vegetable such as carrots, bell pepper, and tomatoes, in yogurt dressings, and breads. It is also used in the Middle East for salads, tabouli and marinated vegetables. Fresh mint leaves may be added to new potatoes, fruit salads, and non-alchoholic punches.

Mint is good in soups, salads, sauces, plain meat, fish and poultry, stews, sweet or savory recipes, extremely good with chocolate or lemon based desserts. Add near the end of cooking for a better flavor.

Something fun to do with mint this summer is to make Mint Ice Cubes! Place 2-3 mint leaves into each cell of a heatproof ice cube tray. Fill the cells with boiling water, then let stand for 10 minutes; remove the leaves if desired. Freeze the ice cube tray until solid. Serve with some homemade iced tea!

Oregano

Oregano is a hardy member of the mint family that has been used for flavoring fish, meat and sauces since ancient times.

Generally used to season Mexican, Italian, Greek and Spanish dishes. Oregano has a warm, aromatic scent and robust taste. It's uses include seasoning soups, stews, meat pies, pasta sauces and shellfish. Oregano goes well with vegetables, roast beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Marjoram goes well with all pork and veal and complements stuffing for poultry, dumplings and herb scones or breads.

Parsley

Parsley is a great all around herb. It quickly adds a touch of color and texture to any recipe. The aroma and taste of parsley is very distinctive for an herb that is generally described as being mild and non obtrusive.

Especially good in omelets, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, soups, pasta and vegetable dishes as well as sauces to go with fish, poultry, veal and pork. Use fresh leaves as garnish.

Flat leaf or Italian is used primarily in cooking because of its more robust flavor and curly parsley is used primaryily for garnish. Add at the end of cooking for better flavor.

Rosemary

Rosemary  is an herb of the mint family. Rosemary's aromatic flavor blends well with garlic and thyme to season lamb roasts, meat stews, and marinades. Rosemary also enlivens lighter fish and poultry dishes, tomato sauces, and vegetables. Dress fresh steamed red potatoes and peas or a stir fried mixture of zucchini and summer squash. Rosemary has a tea like aroma and a piney flavor. Crush leaves by hand or with a mortar and pestle before using.

Sprigs can be added to a jar of olive oil to make rosemary oil. You can use this to brush lamb, pork or veal steaks whilst they grill - either on the barbecue or your indoor grill or griddle.

Strip leaves off a couple of sprigs, pour some boiling water over and allow to brew to make a diruetic tea.

Sage

Sage is an herb from an evergreen shrub in the mint family. Sage enhances pork, lamb, meats, and sausages. Sage is a wonderful flavor enhancement for seafood, vegetables, stuffing, and savory breads. Rub sage, cracked pepper, and garlic into pork tenderloin or chops before cooking. Chopped leaves flavor salads, pickles, and cheese. Crumble leaves for full fragrance.

Sorrel

  French Sorrel

Sorrel is a green leaf vegetable native to Europe. Young sorrel may be harvested to use in salads, soups or stews. If you are planning on using sorrel in salads, it’s a good idea to stick with small tender leaves that have the fruitier and less acidic taste. Young sorrel leaves are also excellent when lightly cooked, similar to the taste of cooked chard or spinach. For soups and stews, older sorrel can be used because it adds tang and flavor to the dish.

Stevia

Stevia is an herb that packs so much sweetness into its leaves that they can be used in place of sugar. One dried leaf, ground, is 10 to 15 times sweeter than an equal amount of sugar, and powdered extracts made from the leaves are up to 300 times as sweet, without the calories (make that no calories!).

One fresh stevia leaf is enough to sweeten a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of lemonade. The leaves can be added to barbecue sauce, salad dressings, soups, and stews.

Tarragon

Tarragon is an exceptional herb. It has a subtle and sophisticated flavor and is an essential herb in French cuisine. It's flavor is delicate and almost licorice or anise-like.

Tarragon is exceptional in egg dishes, poached fish, mushrooms and other vegetables. It is also good with chicken and in salad dressings. It is often used in sauces like béarnaise and French cuisine. Tarragon is also often used to infuse vinegar and olive oils.

Thyme

Thyme is often used in soups and sauces, with meat, poultry or fish. It is often included in seasoning blends for poultry and stuffing and also commonly used in fish sauces, chowders, and soups. It goes well with lamb and veal as well as in eggs and croquettes. Thyme if often paired with tomatoes.

Stuff the leaves into oily fish like mackerel and sprinkle finely chopped stems and leaves on salads and cooked vegetables and can also be added to soups and stuffings.

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