Herbs can bring your dish to life. Herbs signal that the earth has emerged from its hibernation and Mother Nature is ready to decorate our plates (and glasses) once again. Planting a small indoor herb garden or an extensive outdoor raised bed will literally bear the “fruits” of your efforts. Here are a few ideas on how to use them:
- A quick way to have year round herbs: ice cube trays! An extra abundance of basil or any other fresh herb will freeze once blended with a bit of water in ice cube trays. Use one handful of herbs to ¼ cup of water, blending in a blender or a food processor. Another trick is freezing homemade pesto.
- Drinks never had it so good as when made with flavored simple syrups. For a quick mojito (or flavored seltzer), simply take a recipe for simple syrup and add a large handful of mint to warm syrup. Allow it to cool and store in the refrigerator. Strain off leaves when ready to serve. Consider doing the same technique with other herbs- perhaps tarragon or dill for nifty spin on a gin and tonic.
- The best and easiest way to elevate simple olive oil is to infuse it. The technique is the same no matter your flavor palette- simply heat the oil very gently over a low heat until very warm. Using the Miele induction cooktop here would be great as it maintains temperatures with expert precision. Then add any assortment of herbs that strikes your fancy. A few spices such as peppercorns, star anise pods and the like would round it out. Maybe even a garlic clove or bit of citrus peel. Store in a cool spot or in the refrigerator for longer storage.
- The leaves of herbs such as sage, mint, rosemary, thyme and parsley, stripped from their stalks, are well suited for oven drying. Wash and dry your leaves completely before laying it out on a baking tray. Avoid the leaves from overlapping and pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees (or your lowest temperature setting). After an hour in the oven your leaves will be ready to crumble and jar for later use.
Simple User Guide for Common Herbs:
Parsley - A handful of chopped parsley packs a bright punch when added at the end of the recipe. Don’t forget the stems can be used too.
Rosemary - Paired perfectly with roasted potatoes or pork, the fragrant herb has an assertive aroma.
Sage - An earthy herb for infused oils and for roasting chicken and butternut squash.
Mint - Not only for mojitos. Mint has a very cooling flavor so added to spiced Asian flavored dishes provides another layer of flavor.
Cilantro - A love it or leave it herb for some. For a fun twist on pesto, take basil out of a traditional pesto recipe and use this citrusy herb.
Tarragon - Tastes vaguely like fennel. Use in salad dressings or chopped on roasted fish.
Chives - An onion relative to be used as a last minute additional flavorful bite.
Chervil - An often overlooked herb that is floral and delicate. Use in quiches or other egg preparations.
Basil - A summer staple. A natural pairing is tomatoes.
Marjoram - A bit like oregano. Use when grilling vegetables or poultry during marinating.
Oregano - Strong and floral it is a natural in marinades for grilled meats.
The plate is your canvas and like any other work of art, the possibilities are only limited by imagination.