If there is any one thing that has changed how I cook it is the use of fresh herbs. This is the ingredient that takes a food from good to great. We all have our favorites. I need basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, mint, and dill. Thyme, chives, and rosemary are runners-up.
Suggestions from the Culinary Herb Guide on cooking with fresh herbs:
- 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: 1/4 teaspoon powdered herbs is equaled to 3/4 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 1/2 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.
Herbs that freeze well: basil, chives, dill, mint, sage, tarragon, oregano
First method of freezing:
1. Wash and spin or pat dry. Chop into the preferred size. Spread in a single layer on a pan and place in the freezer.
2. Transfer into labeled, resealable freezer bags. Push all the air out before sealing.
3. In most recipes, it is not necessary to thaw herbs before using.
Second method of freezing:
Make a paste by mixing two cups of herbs and 1/3 cup of oil and blending until smooth. Transfer into an ice cube tray, freeze, and then transfer into an airtight, labeled resealable freezer bag.
Adding fresh herbs freshens almost every recipe from the simplest to the most gourmet. They can also be used to freshen a room. I occasionally place cut rosemary in a vase and place in a visiting guest's bathroom or bedroom.
So, what herbs are your favorites?