Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Get easy tips for brightening up your cooking with seven popular herbs.

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Basil 

What does it cost? $2 to $3 for a small bunch.

What do I do with it? Basil does not require a lot of cooking time. In fact, the longer you cook it, the more flavor will be lost. It’s best to use it fresh on sandwiches and in salads or to add chopped leaves to sauces at the very last minute. Try stirring basil into store-bought pasta sauce to add fresh flavor.

How do I cut it? If there are small leaves in the bunch, use them as is. For large leaves, stack a few at a time, fold the stack in half, and then slice the folded stack into strips. If you want smaller pieces, turn the strips 90 degrees and slice again.

How do I store it? Snip off the bottom of the stems, and dry the leaves completely. Fill a cup or jar half full with water and place the stem ends into the water. Find a plastic bag, punch a few holes into it and cover the basil. Store on your counter out of direct sunlight, and change the water every day or so. The basil should keep for at least a week, if not more. 

Think out of the box. Try adding basil stems with leaves to your next flower arrangement; everyone will be wondering what smells so good. Share the secret or keep it to yourself…we won’t tell!

Parsley and Cilantro

What does it cost? $2 to $3 for a large bunch.

What do I do with it? Add parsley/cilantro to a finished dish to add a pop of flavor and color. Stir chopped parsley/cilantro and lime juice into white rice for an awesome side dish. You can also combine both herbs with garlic, lemon, lime or orange zest and a touch of oil for an amazing rub for chicken, fish and meats.

How do I store it? Wrap rinsed and dried parsley/cilantro in slightly damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag. Keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Think out of the box. Make a parsley or cilantro pesto to serve over seafood, veggies, pastas and meats. Just combine a bunch of parsley or cilantro and a handful of walnuts in a food processor. As you process, slowly pour olive oil into the pesto until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in some grated Parmesan cheese; season with salt and pepper. To store, cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Sage

What does it cost? $2 to $4 for a small box.

What do I do with it? Add minced sage to polenta, stuffing and bean dishes. Try it with chicken, roasted meats and vegetables.

How do I cut it? To chop sage, stack a few leaves, fold the stack in half, and then slice the folded stack into strips. If you want smaller pieces, turn the strips 90 degrees and slice again.

How do I store it? Wrap rinsed and dried sage leaves in slightly damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag. Keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 days. 

Think out of the box. Make fried sage leaves to garnish soups, risotto and pastas. Add a few tablespoons oil to a small frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sage leaves, a few at a time, and fry until crisp, about 15 seconds. Remove from the oil, pat dry with a paper towel and season with salt.

Thyme and Rosemary

What does it cost? $2 to $4 for a small box.

What do I do with it? Because thyme and rosemary are hardy herbs, slide the leaves away from each stem, and then use a knife to chop them. (Discard the stems.) Add rosemary and thyme to dishes before cooking. The strong woody flavors complement beef, lamb, chicken and roasted vegetables.

How do I store it? Wrap rinsed and dried thyme/rosemary in slightly damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag. Keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Think out of the box. Make flavored salt. Mince fresh rosemary or thyme with lemon zest and then stir into salt. (Try adding 3 or 4 tablespoons of herbs and zest to 1/4 cup coarse salt.) Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Sprinkle your custom salt blend on meats, fish or vegetables before cooking.

Dill

What does it cost? $2 to $3 for a small bunch.

What do I do with it? Add fresh dill to scrambled eggs or salads. Serve with salmon and other fish (smoked or otherwise) with a splash of lemon juice and maybe a spoonful of sour cream. Add dill to stocks, soups and even cream sauces.

How do I store it? Wrap rinsed and dried dill in slightly damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag. Keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Think out of the box. Make dill butter to use on veggies, fish or chicken. Finely mince the dill and then add to softened butter; season with salt. Wrap the butter in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.