Dishes prepared with fresh herbs will have more flavor than dishes made with dried herbs. Whether you’ve grown your own herbs or purchased them at a farmer’s market, you might be unsure how to prepare fresh herbs for cooking. Luckily, using fresh herbs in your cooking is not difficult. While there are several methods of preparation that will work, each herb does have its own preference.
Best known for flavoring Italian tomato sauces, pizzas and grilled vegetables, basil is best used as whole leaves or torn by hand. While the flavor is generally described as spicy and almost peppery, the smaller leaves at the top of a bunch tend to be the sweetest.
Chives are best prepared by snipping with scissors. The subtle onion flavor is used on everything from egg dishes to baked potatoes.
Used in many ethnic cuisines, including Asian, Indian and Mexican, cilantro is best prepared by removing leaves from the stem and cutting with a knife. This reduces bruising. If you grow your own cilantro, keep in mind that the leaves become bitter after the plant flowers.
Dill is often used in seafood dishes, herb vinegars and in pickle brine. Dill is another herb that prefers scissors to the knife. The feathery leaves have a delicate flavor that can be diminished if chopped with a knife. The strongest flavor is in the seeds. Grind these up and use in long-cooking casserole recipes.
One of the most versatile herbs, mint is popular in dishes as varied as candy, meat and teas. Mint is also one of the easiest herbs to use – just toss whole leaves in a dish. If adding to a drink, such as a hot or iced tea, the flavor can be enhanced by twisting the leaf before adding it to the drink. The most popular variety is spearmint.
Oregano is commonly used on pizza and in other tomato dishes because the earthy flavor helps balance tomato’s acidity. Fresh oregano can be finely chopped with a knife.
Parsley’s peppery taste belies the fact that the herb is packed with vitamin C. Throw parsley in at the end of the dish to preserve the nutritional value. To prepare, remove the leaves from the stem. Holding several leaves in one hand, snip them with scissors. This prevents less bruising than chopping them with a knife.
Rosemary has a unique pine flavor that is easy to discern in any dish. It is commonly used in Mediterranean dishes, and baked into breads. Whole sprigs can be placed in cooking pots and removed before serving. Alternatively, rosemary can be crushed in an herb mill and sprinkled over dishes.
With its woodsy flavor, it’s no surprise sage often finds its way into holiday stuffing for turkey. It’s also used to season sausage and rich meats like goose and duck. It’s best to remove the tough central rib before chopping. To make an easy job of this, stack sage leaves on top of each other with the ribs aligned. Fold the pile in half along the rib and trim the rib out with a quick knife stroke. Slice the leaves into smaller segments, then mince or chop the amount needed.
A key component of French béarnaise sauce, tarragon’s unique flavor, reminiscent of licorice, can also be found in poultry and fish dishes. To prepare fresh tarragon, finely chop or mince the sprigs.
Thyme’s minty flavor profile makes it a popular choice in Mediterranean dishes. Many people are intimidated by fresh thyme because of the perceived labor involved in removing the tiny leaves from the stem. An easy way to get this job done is to grasp the top of the stem and then pinch lightly with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand. Run your fingers down the stem quickly to remove the leaves. The same job can be accomplished using a fork’s tines in place of your thumb and forefinger. If preferred, thyme can be minced into even finer pieces.
If you have more herb than your recipe needs, extend the life of the herb by refrigerating or freezing it. To refrigerate, remove leaves from the stem and place the plant in fresh water. Cover the open container with a plastic bag and seal it. Some herbs will remain fresh for several weeks this way. Make sure and replace the water if it begins to look cloudy. To keep herbs fresh for up to six months, place leaves in a plastic freezer bag instead of water and a container. While frozen herbs will appear darker, their flavor will remain the same.