Getting Fresh with Herbs

Jessica Goldman Foung, CUESA Board Director and author of Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook
July 18, 2013

As the saying goes, you eat with your eyes as much as your mouth. But what about your nose? Like sight and taste, the smell of your food plays a big part in enjoying what’s on the plate. And that’s where the aromatic power of herbs comes in.  

With just a sprinkle (or three) of fresh dill, tarragon, or sage, you can give even the simplest dish a huge boost of fresh, summer flavor—and a bright splash of color, too. Pair fresh basil with grilled peaches, rosemary with roasted radishes, mint with fresh peas, or lavender with a cool cocktail … the possibilities are endless.

This week at the market, take a moment to stop and smell the herbs. Pick up familiar and new flavors to boost the taste appeal of your next meal. And follow these tips to make the most of your bunch and your culinary adventures.

Mix it up: Give your favorite dishes a new spin with unexpected herbs. Try buying one kind of herb and using it as many ways as possible throughout the week in both sweet and savory dishes. You’ll surprise your taste buds and yourself.

Make herbs the star: Most of the time, herbs play a supporting role. This week, let them be the center of attention with an all-herb salad, herb risotto, fresh herb-topped pasta, or herb frittata.

Opt for fresh over dried: If you’re wondering when to use dried herbs versus fresh herbs, just remember: fresh for the finish! Dried herbs release their flavor during longer cooking times, while fresh herbs lose their bright taste and color with too much heat. Add fresh herbs at the very end of cooking or right before you dig in. If your favorite recipe calls for dried herbs but you want to use fresh, simply use one-third of the listed amount.

Make your herbs last: If you store herbs in a plastic bag in the fridge, wrap the stems in a wet paper towel and then poke a few air holes in the bag. Or simply place the herbs stem down in a small glass of water in the refrigerator.

Waste not: Don’t let leftover herbs go to waste. If you have extra “hard” herbs (perennials like rosemary, oregano, and thyme), simply freeze them in ice cube trays with a little olive oil or water and pop them out the next time you make pasta, soup, or a fresh dressing. Or, for “soft” herbs (biennials and annuals like cilantro, parsley, basil, and mint), grab a blender and some pine nuts and turn those wilting leaves into a delicious pesto.

Explore and experiment: View our Farmers Market Guide to Fresh Herbs to get more familiar with parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and all the other fresh herbs you’ll find at the summer farmers market. And don’t be shy. If you’re new to a particular herb, take a whiff or ask your farmer if you can have a taste.