Fresh herbs are a recipe developer’s favorite secret weapon. Not only do herbs add a vibrant color and aromatic lure, but they can also dramatically develop the flavor in your recipes. Some herbs add an interesting top note to your dish while others bring a sense of balance or intrigue.
5 Essential herbs for cooking
- Basil. Its flavor is reminiscent of the minty, but it has also been described as having “floral-anise” aroma. Consider pairing basil with cold pasta salads, and add in sweet tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (you just can’t go wrong with Caprese). Blend fresh basil with olive oil, parmesan cheese and nuts to make a perfect pesto for paninis or crostini. Or, toss a chiffonade of basil into salad greens for an unexpected zip.
- Cilantro: Possibly one of the most polarizing fresh herbs, some foodies taste cilantro as “soapy,” and can’t tolerate even a small amount in food, while others (like me) can’t get enough. Cilantro’s bright, fresh flavor is usually best showcased when the herb is added after your dish has been cooked. Try adding cilantro to Mexican and Asian inspired recipes – mix it into tomato or fruit salsas, sprinkle the herb on top of enchiladas or tacos, incorporate it into curries, you name it.
- Dill: A favorite of mine. Fresh dill has a very strong aroma, and lends an anise flavor to your cooking. Consider pairing fresh dill with fresh lemon (and plenty of butter) to a salmon fillet for a beautiful presentation that bursts flavor. Mix dill into your favorite homemade buttermilk ranch dressing for a nicely balanced condiment. Or, stir dill into a creamy chicken salad for an unusual twist.
- Sage: It’s tough to describe sage flavor, but it’s strong. Start by adding a small amount to your recipe then build, layering on complementary flavors. Sage leaves are soft to the touch and brown quickly when cut. Most people use sage on their Thanksgiving bird, but forget about it in every day cooking. One of my favorite dishes (ever) was a roast chicken with lemon, garlic, and fresh sage. Mmm…comfort food at its best.
- Thyme: A common herb in American cooking, thyme adds a complimentary flavor to just about anything. When cooking with thyme, just remember to strip the leaves from the stem. The stems are tough, woody, and not-at-all appetizing. Consider adding thyme to pan sauces and gravies for added depth of flavor. Or, add thyme to roasted meats or veggies – you might be surprised how much impact the tiny addition makes.
- Rosemary: Read all about fresh rosemary and my lousy gardening skills.
How to cook with fresh herbs – reminder!
To use fresh herbs in your cooking, remember:
- Pick herbs that are bright green and free of dark spots.
- Before adding to your recipes, trim the leaves, wash and blot dry with a clean towel.
- Herbs don’t last long after picking, so harvest wisely!