The Magic of Fresh Herbs, Fresh Herb & Food Combos

collage of foods made with herbsCooking with Fresh Herbs

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Alice Henneman, MS, RDN

"The secret to transforming easy dishes into extraordinary meals? Fresh herbs."

(From a review by the publisher of the International Association of Culinary Professionals 2006 award-winning cookbook, The Herbal Kitchen.)

The Magic of Fresh Herbs

Here are some tips from the author, chef Jerry Traunfeld, for enjoying herbs in YOUR kitchen:

  • You only need to remove twiggy, wiry or woody parts of herbs. It's OK to chop up soft stems.
  • Avoid over-chopping herbs. A "chopped" herb, according to Traunfeld, would measure between 1/8- and 1/4-inch across.
  • Use stiff rosemary branches as skewers. Remove the leaves at the lower portion and cut the lower tip at an angle to aid piercing the food.
  • Toss cooked pasta with a couple of tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley.
  • If you're planting just one type of mint, consider spearmint. It complements both sweet and savory flavors.
  • Try sprinkling cooked or roasted cauliflower with coarsely chopped dill.
  • If you only have room for planting one type of thyme, Traunfeld suggests English thyme. Lemon thyme works well with spring vegetables and seafood.
  • Use a very sharp knife when cutting basil to avoid bruising it. Stir fresh basil in at the end when adding it to a cooked dish.
  • Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, it means sweet basil when it calls for basil.

Fresh Herb & Food Combos

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Alice Henneman, MS, RDNherbs

A quick snip of a fresh herb into a dish instantly kicks the flavor (and appearance!) up a notch. Following are some popular combinations.

Unless directed otherwise by your recipe, add the more delicate herbs — basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, and mint -- a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it's served. The less delicate herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking.

BASIL - a natural snipped in with tomatoes; terrific in fresh pesto; other possibilities include pasta sauce, peas, zucchini

CHIVES - dips, potatoes, tomatoes

CILANTRO - Mexican, Asian and Caribbean cooking; salsas, tomatoes

DILL - carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes

MINT - carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, tabouli, tea

OREGANO - peppers, tomatoes

PARSLEY - The curly leaf is the most common, but the flat-leaf or Italian parsley is more strongly flavored and often preferred for cooking. Naturals for parsley include potato salad, tabouli, egg salad sandwiches

ROSEMARY - chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes

THYME - eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoes

Approximate equivalent amounts of different forms of herbs are:

  • 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground dried herbs

Begin with ¼ teaspoon of most ground spices or ground dried herbs for these amounts; adjust as needed. Use more herbs when using a crumbled dried or a fresh form.

  • 4 servings
  • 1 pound of meat
  • 1 pint (2 cups of soup or sauce)

(Red pepper intensifies in flavor during cooking; add in small increments.)

When doubling a recipe, do not double spices and herbs. Increase amounts by 1½ times. Add more if needed.