We all love herbs, or at least love the idea of cooking with them. But fresh herbs are not always available and some of them are better used dry. Here’s a quick rundown of what we keep or use in our kitchen:
Basil – Fabulous and the greatest garnish for pizza and pasta, and tomato-mozzarella salads. When we buy a fresh bunch we trim the tips of the stems and place them like a bouquet in a glass of water. When they start to wilt, my wife harvests the leaves, washes them well, pats them dry, then rolls them into a ball. She then wraps the ball in shrink wrap and places it in the freezer. We grate basil onto our food when we can’t get fresh basil.
- Chive – For that little garlicky touch on potatoes and cream soups. Chive plants are delicate and wispy, and their odor makes sure you acknowledge their presence in the garden. We don’t use it enough to grow it, so a small bunch comes home from the store when we need it.
- Dill – The traditional herb for fish, we almost always use it on poached salmon. Fresh dill is very wispy, but delivers a lot of flavor. We prefer fresh to powdered, so we usually pick up a small bunch as needed.
- Garlic – Can you imagine a kitchen without garlic? No, we can’t either. We are surprised at how convenient powdered, bottled and frozen crushed garlic can be. However, there are times that nothing but a whole fresh clove will do.
- Ginger – Sharp, spicy and sweet all at once, it’s great brewed into a tea and kills most unpleasant fishy odors and flavors. Ginger plants are about four feet tall (sometimes taller) and graceful, but it’s so much easier to buy a clean, fresh root segment at the store when you need it. It’s wonderful when it’s fresh, but some rubs benefit from the powder.
- Marjoram – Brings an interesting touch to burgers. The marjoram we placed in a strawberry pot in the front yard died a few weeks ago, so we’re back to using the dried powder.
- Mint – Great for garnish and in a watermelon-berry summer salad. Our recent effort to grow our own failed, so we buy a bunch at the store when we need it.
Oregano – Crush and mix with lemon juice and olive oil to make a bright, light basting liquid for poultry on the barbie. My parents-in-law grew oregano like a ground cover in their back yard. My mother-in-law would harvest the stems, tie them in bunches inside paper bags, and hang them upside-down to dry. She would then strip the leaves, taking care to remove all the big and little branch pieces.
- Parsley, flat or curly-leaf – A couple of fresh leaves are a great breath freshener. Like basil, fresh parsley lasts longer if it is kept like a bouquet in fresh water. I’ll confess that we don’t have the patience to dry parsley, so we buy it in a small tub at the warehouse store.
- Rosemary – Almost mandatory for roasted chicken and lamb. Rosemary bunches seem to last over a week in the refrigerator. If you have the patience, when they start to dry up strip the needles from the stems, spread them on a cookie sheet, dry them completely, and store in a baggie or bottle.
Sage – Fresh leaves usually go between a turkey breast and skin, along with some butter, before we roast the bird. Fresh sage doesn’t keep, so we buy just what we need. Rubbed sage is an important part of many poultry recipes.
- Thyme – A multipurpose herb that compliments meats, fish and vegetables. Our thyme plant was a recent casualty of the strawberry pot in the garden, so we’re soldiering on with the powdered form.
There are different varieties of these herbs, and there are so many other herbs we haven’t explored yet. Discovery is a delicious journey.
(Note: Herb photos courtesy of Herbal Nexus: http://www.rootgrafix.com/herbalnexus/photos.htm)