Asian cooks add basil to summer rolls. Add
them to your own wraps and sandwiches.
Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants.
The first week in May is National Herb Week, a time to focus on using more fresh herbs in your cooking.
Fresh herbs offer tons of flavor and good nutrition with virtually no calories. The flavor they provide lets you cut back on salt. They can be used in any savory dish (and some sweet ones).
So, why not use more fresh herbs?
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HERBS & SPICES
The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences.
Herbs are the leaves of a plant (although stems may also be used). They grow in any climate warm enough to grow vegetables.
Spices are from the seeds, roots, fruit or bark, and typically used in dried form. Most originate in tropical or semi-tropical regions.
The coriander plant’s leaves are the herb cilantro, while coriander seeds are a spice in their own right.
Dill weed, an herb, and dill seed, a spice, come from the same plant.
It’s possible for one plant to contain both herb and spice. For example:
TIPS FOR COOKING WITH FRESH HERBS
Remove any twiggy, wiry or woody parts of the herb. Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, you can chop up soft stems. At any rate, don’t throw them away: They add deliciousness to soups and stews.
Avoid over-chopping herbs into teeny pieces. The diameter should measure between 1/8 and 1/4 inches.
Strip the leaves off of rosemary branches, but don’t throw the branches away. Freeze them for when you need a skewers. Cut the bottom at an angle to better skewer the food.
Plant some basic herbs; they grow well indoors and outdoors. For starters, plant basil, parsley, spearmint and English thyme. Avoid pre-planted pots that contain an assortment of herbs; their need for water varies.
Use flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for cooked dishes: It’s more strongly flavored than curly leaf parsley.
Add delicate herbs (basil, dill) to a hot recipe towards the end of cooking.
Converting Dry Measures For Fresh Herbs
In recipes, if dried herbs are specified, a larger quantity of fresh herbs is required. Here’s are the equivalents:
1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground dried herbs
1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs
EVERYDAY USES FOR FRESH HERBS
Breakfast: A must in omelets, frittatas and baked egg dishes.
Lunch: Add punch to grain salads, green salads and protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.). Place a few basil leaves in a sandwich or wrap. Garnish soups with fresh-snipped herbs.
Dinner: Add herbs to everything you cook! Just a few: Toss cooked pasta, rice and other grains with flat-leaf parsley. Add dill to roasted vegetables. Snip chives onto baked potatoes and vinaigrettes.
All Meals: Sprinkle or snip herbs as garnishes for just about everything. If your herbs blossom, use the blossoms as well.
Basil: pasta sauce, peas, pesto, tomatoes, zucchini
Chives: dips, potatoes, tomatoes
Cilantro: salsa, tomatoes, plus many Asian, Caribbean and Mexican dishes
Dill: carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes
Mint: carrots, desserts, fruit salad, parsley, peas, tabouli, tea
Oregano: peppers, tomatoes
POPULAR HERB & FOOD PAIRINGS
When herbs blossom, like these chive blossoms, don’t cut and toss them. They’re beautiful plate garnishes. Photo courtesy Morguefile.
Parsley: egg salad and other protein salads, potato salad and other vegetable salads, tabouli, sandwiches
Rosemary: chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes
Thyme: eggs, lima and other beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoes