Cooking School

Get fresh with herbs

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Get fresh with herbs

Bursting with natural flavour, fresh herbs make a great meal even better. Get to know these common varieties and create wonderful condiments to be enjoyed all year long.

Basil
• Large-leaf sweet basil is the most common variety, but basil comes in an array of shapes and flavours, including purple-leaf opal basil, monster-leaf mammoth basil, licorice-scented Thai basil, and basil with cinnamon and lemon.
• A chiffonade (thin strips or shreds)
of sweet-leaf basil is a lovely accent to sliced tomatoes and zucchini.
• Whole leaves make a flavourful base for pesto and vinaigrette.
• Thai basil is the essence of southeast Asian cooking, from Thai curries and salads to Vietnamese pho noodles and cold spring rolls.

Chives
• With a delicate onion flavour, this member of the lily family has thin, hollow stems and pink pom-pom flowers. Other varieties are pungent flat-leafed garlic chives and Chinese chives, which you can use interchangeably.
• Chive flowers make a lovely garnish for soups and salads. Chopped chives have a natural affinity to sour cream in dips and dressings.
• Chives are one of the classic fines herbes, along with parsley, tarragon and chervil, which are found in many classic French egg and sauce recipes.
• Long cooking diminishes the flavour of chives, so sprinkle freshly chopped chives over hot foods as a flavour boost and garnish.
• Chinese chives or garlic chives have body and add character to stir-fries, dumpling fillings and Asian flatbreads.

Coriander (cilantro)
• This love-it-or-leave-it herb adds perfumed aroma to Mexican, Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. Also known by its Spanish name, cilantro, and Arab or Chinese parsley, all parts of this herb (leaves, stems, roots and seeds) are used throughout the world, though not all parts of the plant are used in all cuisines.
• The flavour of stems and leaves is absorbed with slow cooking, but chopped fresh coriander adds a green freshness when tossed in salads, stirred into curries or dips, or sprinkled over cooked foods.
• Coriander is harvested with the roots intact because it bolts easily. However, if you want the seeds, let nature take its course.
• Lightly toasting coriander seeds helps bring out their nutty aroma and exotic flavour. They are used both whole and ground in curry pastes, meat rubs and spice blends. In southeast Asia, minced roots are used in sauces and pastes.

Dill
• Both the seeds and feathery leaves of the dill plant are used (when dried, the herb is called dillweed).
• Chopped leaves add unique flavour to dips, soups, salmon, fish and eggs. Use seeds in cucumber pickles, braised cabbage and potato salad. Allow dill to flower before slipping it into a jar of pickles.


Marjoram and oregano

• These two herbs are closely related, but marjoram has a flavour that is more delicate than its wild-variety cousin, oregano.
• Native to the Mediterranean, these aromatic herbs are essential to French, Greek, Italian and Spanish recipes. Their spicy, zesty flavour complements oils and vinegars, grilled poultry and seafood, and tomato-based sauces.
• Once dried, oregano and marjoram have much more concentrated flavours than when fresh. Add both fresh and dried at the end of cooking.

Learn about the top 10 home-grown edibles.

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Mint
• Despite the many varieties of mint (some with distinct aromas and flavours, such as orange, ginger and chocolate), peppermint and spearmint are most commonly used in cooking.
• Spearmint gives the best flavour to mint sauce, juleps and peas.
• Fresh or dried peppermint can be added to green, black or iced tea and enlivens fresh fruit.

Parsley
• The two most common varieties of parsley are curly and Italian (or flat leaf). Though curly parsley is commonly used as a garnish, flat leaf actually has better flavour.
• Chopped parsley adds a fresh herbal accent when sprinkled over soups and sauces, or tossed with grain and vegetable salads, hot pasta or boiled potatoes. Restaurant chefs always save the stems for the stockpot.

Rosemary
• This aromatic herb, indigenous to the Mediterranean, has a woodsy pine aroma well suited to marinades for lamb, grilled and roasted vegetables, goat cheese and olives.
• It naturally complements garlic and lemon and adds a sweet aromatic edge to fresh-baked breads. Dried rosemary should be broken into small bits to distribute evenly throughout the dish.

Sage
• Sage may have started life as a medicinal herb (during the Middle Ages sage was considered a cure-all), but its transition to the kitchen has
been successful.
• For variety, try one of the many beautiful blue, purple or tricolour varieties, plants with fruit (such as autumn or fruit sage) or pineapple-scented leaves.
• Traditionally, sage adds a gentle woodsy perfume to stuffing, sausages, beans, onions, game and offal meats.
• Dried and ground sage are stronger in flavour than fresh and should be used discreetly so as not to overpower the dish.

Tarragon
• Delicate, anise-flavoured tarragon is used in many classic French dishes. It pairs wonderfully with eggs, mushrooms and poached chicken and fish, and is one of the four classic fines herbes.
• Though subtle, tarragon's flavour diffuses quickly throughout the dish and it should therefore be used sparingly. Heat diminishes its flavour, so add it at the end of cooking or sprinkle over foods as a garnish.

Thyme
• Thyme's gentle flavour brightens many foods and blends well with other herbs (especially rosemary, oregano, sage and parsley) without overpowering them. Look for flavoured varieties, such as lemon, oregano or mildly menthol-scented variegated thyme, to add special interest to dishes.
• A sprig with pale purple flowers makes a lovely garnish for soup. But thyme's flavour is much better if it is harvested before flowering.
• Thyme was once thought to aid in the digestion of fatty foods and is commonly used with lamb, pork, duck and goose.
• Slow cooking encourages thyme's flavour, making it well suited to stews, baked vegetables and stuffing. Loose sprigs are often thrown into soups or tied with bay leaves and parsley to make a bouquet garni (bundle of herbs).
• Dried thyme retains much of its flavour, but fresh thyme is stronger and should be used more sparingly.

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Harvesting herbs
To enjoy fresh
• Pick new growth from leafy annual herbs (such as basil) and perennial herbs (such as sage, rosemary and thyme) to encourage more growth and maintain leafy, healthy plants.
• Pick young leaves in the morning once dew has evaporated. Discard any that are blemished or damaged from insects. Handle as little as possible because crushing leaves releases essential oils, resulting in flavour loss.
• Pick chive, mint and basil blossoms when fully open and use immediately for an elegant garnish for soups and salads, for example. Some of the more exotic varieties of herbs with exquisite flowers are pineapple sage, Thai basil and lemon verbena.
• Keep large bunches of herbs with roots attached for several days in container of water in cool, dark room (covered with damp cloth). Or roll up in paper towels and refrigerate in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper for three to five days.
• Recrisp limp, leafy herbs (such as coriander, mint and parsley) in a bowl of ice water for several hours or until stiff and full.
• Chop and freeze fresh herbs with water in ice cube container. Use within two weeks in soups or braised and stewed dishes. While handy, the cubes last only a few weeks before flavour diminishes.

To enjoy dried
• Brush off any dust and loose soil from leaves with a pastry brush. Washing is only necessary if leaves are gritty. Pat dry with paper towel and lay out on racks to let dry thoroughly, because wetness can lead to mould development.
• Tie herbs in small loose bunches and hang in a warm room (not more than 86°F/30°C) so that the herbs dry and their essential oils remain intact. Avoid rooms with a buildup of condensation (such as kitchens or laundry rooms).
• Dry herbs until crisp, about one week. Gently strip whole leaves from the stem and place in a sealed jar. If condensation is present after 24 hours, remove and lay out on rack covered with cheesecloth or fine mesh until fully dried.
• Make sure herb seed pods (such as dill and coriander) are dry and have no trace of green. Cut stalk with pod and invert into paper bag. Keep in warm, dry room for several days or until seeds are completely dried and released from pods into bag.
• Store dried herbs in glass or terra-cotta jars in a cool, dark place (such as a drawer or cupboard).

Enjoy your harvest year-round with these great recipes!

1. Basil Pesto
2. Dill Orange Vinegar
3. Herb Mixtures

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