Guide to Cooking with Fresh Herbs
Cooking with herbs is an easy way to make a recipe with flavor. Not sure where to start, Use this info graphic as a quick reference for how to prep and store fresh herbs plus ideas for how to cook with them. Try stirring a handful of basil and some marjoram into your favourite tomato sauce or rubbing a chicken with a mixture of thyme and rosemary before you roast it. Make homemade pesto to stir into pasta or chimichurri sauce to serve with your favourite grilled meats. Add your favourite chopped herbs to homemade vinaigrette or creamy ranch dip. Herbs like cilantro and mint are excellent tossed in an Asian-inspired salad. Some herbs may be more familiar to you than others. Experiment with a few at a time until you find ones that you like.
For the freshest herbs grow your own. Herbs are among the easiest plants for beginner gardeners and they grow well in pots so you don’t need a lot of space. Start with seedlings such as basil, chives, cilantro, mint and parsley, so you can start harvesting your first herbs right after planting. Plant in a large pot with well-drained soil and water regularly. Place in a sunny spot on a windowsill or outside near your kitchen door and you’ll have fresh herbs at the ready whenever you need them.
No other herb epitomises the taste of summer like basil. This tender annual is available in a number of varieties—opal basil with attractive maroon leaves. Thai basil with its undertones of anise and the classic sweet Genovese basil that is the backbone to every delicious pesto are just a few options to consider.
Culinary Uses: If you have a lot of basil on hand make your own pesto! You can freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and use the blocks to enhance soup or serve over pasta when summer is long gone. Tender basil is at its best when it’s fresh and complements nearly everything from meat to fish. Use it to garnish salads and pizzas fresh out of the oven.
Prep: Basil can bruise easily. It’s best to tear or very roughly chop the leaves. The delicate stems at the top of the plant are good to chop and use in soups. The larger stems of the plant (toward the root end) are woody and less flavorful.
Storage: The best way to store basil is with the root ends in a small cup of water with a plastic bag draped loosely over it on your kitchen counter (NOT in the refrigerator—the cold will cause it to wilt). It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze basil blanch the leaves first then dry them before they hit the freezer. This will prevent them from turning black. To dry basil use a dehydrator or spread out the basil leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.
The pungent flavor and aroma of cilantro is popular in many cuisines including Mexican and Vietnamese. The entire plant is edible: the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander, the stems are as flavorful as the leaves and some Asian recipes even call for the roots.