Practical Guide to Cooking with Herbs

The biggest lie in cooking is that there are rules about flavor. Yes, understanding some basic concepts will give you some excellent guidelines you may choose to follow. The more cooking you do, however, the more you realize there is only one rule you should be following: Cook what YOU love. This should take all the pressure off cooking. Let it! Almost every client I have has wanted to cook more with herbs but was apprehensive because they didn't feel confident about how to use them. I hope this guide gives you that confidence and permission to be adventurous.

USING FRESH HERBS

Fresh herbs fall into two categories as to how they need to be treated.

Delicate Herbs- If cooked too long they loose their flavor, so they should be put in just at the end of cooking or added as a garnish. These can be chopped up to whatever size you like, or the leaves can be left whole, assuming they are bite sized. You can easily tell which herbs these are by tasting a raw leaf. It should be delicious & tender. Examples of these are parsley, basil, chives, cilantro & oregano.

Hearty Herbs- Require a bit of cooking. Chop these herbs up finely, so you're not left with chewy bits. You can easily tell which herbs these are by tasting a raw leaf. They will be chewy, pungent and sometimes bitter. Examples of these are rosemary, thyme & sage.

My Big Mammoth of a Secret to knowing which category each herb falls into...

Taste the raw leaf.

-Is it delicious?- Then it's a Delicate Herb, put it in at the end of cooking/ garnish with it.

-Don't like it? Is it chewy?- Then it's a Hearty Herb, cook it with the dish.

That. Is. It.



HOW MUCH TO USE

However much you'd like. Yes, for real, don't be afraid of a little green!

Here's what a chef does; they add a bunch of herbs, taste the dish and decide if they like it or if they want more herbs. Why should that be any different in your kitchen? You know what you like. Decide to be adventurous and give it a try. Start small & keep adding until you are happy with it. This makes cooking so much more fun, and if you're a mom like me, this may be the only way you get to eat a hot meal!


USING DRIED HERBS

There are four things you need to know about dried herbs.

1. They do not always taste the same as their formerly fresh selves. The drying process can change the flavor notes & pungency of the herbs. All herbs are not effected the same, so taste as you're cooking and you'll be happy.

2. Dried things need to be rehydrated. This means adding moisture. All you need to keep in mind is that dried herbs make weird crunchy garnishes, so always cook them.

3. Crush your dried herbs. You can simply crush them in your fingers as you sprinkle them into your dish or you can grind them in a spice mixture. This will help them release more flavor as you rehydrate them.

4. The dried herbs and spices in your cabinet are probably best suited for the trash. Heartier dried herbs can maintain quality flavor for up to 2 years, but most will get old and loose their flavor in half that time. I recommend pitching anything over the 1-2 year mark and starting over. Don't fret! It doesn't have to be expensive to replace those delicious dried herbs! Once a week or once a month, tack on one dried herb/ spice to your grocery list. You'll hardly notice the extra five bucks and you'll have a fully stocked spice rack in no time.


WHEN BUYING

FRESH: Leaves should look fresh, perky & vibrant. Never wilted, slimy or discolored.

DRIED: Brands do matter, but spend what you're comfortable with. I recommend avoiding grocery store brands. Shake the bottle, it should be loose and dry.


HERBAL BREAKDOWN

The most common herbs you'll see in the grocery store & the ones I suggest for beginners. They are quite forgiving and all go well with each other and with just about all foods.

You really can't go wrong with any of these guys.


Basil- My favorite!

Fresh: Sweet, clove-like, aromatic & summery.

Dried: Very different flavor. Looses a lot of its fragrant, fresh-smelling top notes. Pungent warm clove & allspice bouquet.

Use: Most veggies, especially: Tomatoes, Eggplant, Zucchini. Excellent with Chicken & Fish.

Cooking: Add at end of cooking/ garnish.

Cut: Chiffanode (roll leaves together and finely slice), fine chop or whole leaf.

Try my awesome & quick recipe to make a Basil Pesto Sauce.


Chives

Fresh: Sweet onion. Blossoms are delicious.

Dried: n/a

Use: Goes well on just about everything. Excellent in salad dressings, flavored butters.

Cooking: Add at end of cooking/ garnish.

Cut: Very fine slices


Cilantro

Same plant as Coriander. In US we refer to the leaf as Cilantro & seed as Coriander.

Fresh: Tastes like soap. This is a genetic factor effecting some people. To cool people, like me, it tastes like soap! To the rest of you, it apparently has a fresh, grassy, lemony clean, appetizing taste!?

Dried: Similar but milder flavor.

Use: Very complimentary & pairs well with most foods & other herbs. That is, unless it tastes like soap to you.

Cooking: Add at end of cooking/ garnish.

Cut: Fine, roughly chopped or whole leafs.


Oregano

Fresh: Savory, grassy & warm.

Dried: Pleasing depth of taste with a distinct, sharp peppery element.

Use: Excellent in sauces. Pairs well with tomatoes, zucchini & other veg. Dried is used in combination with other spices as a rub for meat.

Cooking: Holds its flavor during cooking, can be put in at any stage of cooking or used as a garnish.

Cut: Fine or roughly chopped


Parsley

Curly has very little flavor, I recommend reaching for Flat-leaf/ Italian Parsley instead.

Fresh: Mild & Subtle, compliments almost every other flavor.

Dried: Very similar in flavor when rehydrated.

Use: Goes well with everything.

Cooking: Add at end of cooking/ garnish.

Cut: Fine, roughly chopped or whole leafs.


Rosemary

Fresh: Fragrant, pine-like, peppery, warming, woody & herby.

Dried: Looses some of its green notes but remains pungent, woody & pine-like.

Use: Savoriness compliments starchy foods & rich meats such as pork, lamb & duck. Goes well with hearty vegetables such as eggplant, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

Cooking: Requires cooking to soften chewy leaves & extract flavor. Do not use as garnish.

Cut: Very finely chopped


Sage

Fresh: Pungent, herby & savory with hints of peppermint.

Dried: Does not dry well, used in sausages & processed foods.

Use: Pairs well with greasy/ fatty foods such as pork, goose & duck. As well as starchy foods.

Cooking: Best results when used in moderation and cooked for a long time.

Cut: Finely sliced or chopped


Thyme

Fresh: Pungent, warming, lingering flavor

Dried: Retains much of its original flavor

Use: Brings depth of flavor to soups, stews & casseroles. Goes well with almost any meat or poultry. As well as tomatoes, potatoes & greens.

Cooking: Requires cooking to soften leaves & extract flavor. Do not use as garnish.

Cut: Finely chopped or whole leafs.

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