While it’s nice to have a well-stocked spice cabinet, some common herbs are better to use fresh than dried. Let’s have a look at fresh basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme and see what they can do for your plant-based dishes. You’ll find plenty of links to recipes here, too.
Time was when fresh herbs were available only in the summer, and only from farm markets or your own garden. Now, a wide variety of fresh herbs are available in the produce section of well-stocked supermarkets and natural foods stores, all year round.
Once you begin embellishing your meals with fresh herbs, you’ll be hooked. Their unique flavors add a special touch to dishes like dried herbs never can. Experiment with quantities in any given dish.
If fresh herbs are new to your palate, begin with smaller quantities and add more to taste. If you’re an herb aficionado, lavish your fare with herbs to your heart’s content.
Fresh herb benefits: Like fresh vegetables, herbs have plenty of nutrients that are more available in their fresh form than dried. They’re a notable source in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as antioxidants, varying from one variety to another. This article tells you why to increase intake of fresh herbs.
Purple opal basil, a less common variety of this herb
A few tips for making the most of fresh herbs
Buying fresh herbs: Use the same standards for buying fresh herbs at market as you would for other fresh produce: your eyes and sense of smell will tell you if the herbs are fresh. the leaves should be plump, shiny (but not waxy) and uniform, and not wilted or starting to brown, and the aroma should be fresh and fragrant.
Harvesting herbs from your home garden: Growing your own herbs is a simple task, and harvesting them is even more so, with just a few helpful tips to remember. This article suggests 13 Culinary and Medicinal Herbs to Grow at Home.
- Herbs are at their most flavorful before they flower. You can prolong their peak flavor by nipping flower buds off all summer.
- Harvest herb leaves that look tender and fresh. Herbal lore has it that the best time of day to pick herbs is just after the morning dew has dried, since it is then that the essential oils are most concentrated.
- Wash herbs well. Soil particles hide in crevices and leaf centers, and even a few granules of soil can spoil a delicate dish. If using a big bunch, you might bathe them in a bowl. then dry well before using (a salad spinner is excellent for this).
Cooking with fresh herbs: Add fresh herbs near the very end of cooking time, or use them completely uncooked as a last-minute add-in or garnish. Unlike dried herbs, which are best added to cooked dishes early on, the flavors of fresh herbs stand out best when uncooked.
Swap in for dried herbs: To use a fresh herb when a dried one is called for, swap it in using a 3-to-1 ratio of fresh to dried amounts given in the recipes. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, use 3 teaspoons (which equal 1 tablespoon) of fresh. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you want to be more lavish with your fresh herbs, by all means!
Storing fresh herbs
Refrigerator: Store individual bunches of herbs in airtight containers lined with paper towels. The herbs will keep for several days, but the sooner used, the better.
You can also immerse bunches of herbs with longer stems (like parsley or cilantro) in a tall-ish, narrow glass filled halfway with water, then cover the whole thing with a plastic produce bag. Place it in a secure spot, like the door of the refrigerator.
Finally, you can also purchase special containers meant for keeping fresh herbs longer. Search for “fresh herb keeper.”
Freezer: Herbs will keep for several months in the freezer. Large-leafed herbs like basil and sage should be removed from their stems, while tiny-leafed herbs like thyme and dill may be frozen while still on their stem.
Wash and dry the herbs, then store individual varieties in well-sealed plastic bags or small freezer containers, labeled and dated.
Because some herbs become limp or rubbery when thawed, chop them well after thawing and use in dishes that need some simmering, for example, in soups, stews, or pasta sauces.
Basil in particular becomes rubbery when thawed. Traditionally, its leaves are coated in olive oil before freezing. Better yet, make a batch of pesto and freeze it. Then, a dreary winter day can be brightened with its unique flavor.
The Top 10 Herbs to Use Fresh
One of the most beloved herbs, basil is also one of the most useful. Once confined to summer farmers markets and home gardens, where its intoxicating fragrance filled the air, basil is now available year-round in well-stocked supermarkets. It’s also a good herb to grow on the windowsill.
Though basil is a commonly used dried herb, its flavor is more distinct when using it fresh. Fresh basil is often the main component of traditional pesto sauces, and has a special affinity with tomato-based pasta sauces and tomato salads. Basil is used in Vietnamese, Thai, and other Asian cuisines.
Toss some small leaves onto hot pizza when it comes out of the oven. Look for less common varieties like purple basil and Thai basil in specialty groceries and farm markets, or grow your own!
- Soba Noodles with Tofu, Tomatoes, and Basil
- Easiest Vegan Caprese Salad (Tomatoes with Vegan Mozzarella & Basil)
- Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta
- Vegan Pesto Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes
Chives are a member of the lily family, whose relatives include onions, scallions, and garlic. Fresh chives are easily grown in the kitchen garden or windowsill pots, though they’ve become easier to find in the supermarket produce section. Look for wild garlic chives in the spring, when they grow like veritable weeds.
Their flavor is much like that of scallions but more delicate, which makes them delightful to use as a last-minute addition in fresh form. Fresh chives add flavor to baked potatoes, and potato salads. Use them in dips, dressings, soups, and sauces.
- Vegan Corn Muffins with Cheese and Herbs
- Vegan Chopped Chick’n Salad
- Vegan Chickpea Deviled Tomatoes
Cilantro is an herb that’s rarely available dried, since its unique flavor and aroma seem to disappear almost entirely. Sometimes referred to as Spanish or Chinese parsley, it comes from the same plant whose seeds are the spice coriander.
Fresh cilantro is a staple in supermarket produce sections. It’s used widely in Mexican, Southwestern U.S., Indian, and Asian cuisines. Cilantro adds zest to bean stews, curries, salsas, Asian noodle dishes, and piquant tomato-based sauces for Mexican specialties like enchiladas.
- Vegan Fish Tacos with Avocado-Cilantro Cream
- Cilantro Avocado Hummus
- Vegan Corn Fritters with Cilantro Tomatillo Salsa
- Homemade Vegan Pho
From a tall, feathery annual plant, dill a favorite kitchen-garden herb. The plant’s seed is used widely in pickling. Fresh dill is available year-round in the supermarket produce section. Look for small bunches; a little goes a long way, and big bunches often go to waste.
Dill has an affinity with tomatoes and cucumbers. Sliced cucumbers combined with coconut yogurt and chopped dill make a refreshing salad to serve with spicy dishes. It’s a fantastic herb to use in hot and cold soups. Use fresh dill in dips, herb breads and in hot or cold spinach dishes.
Mint encompasses several related varieties of plants with aromatic foliage. Spearmint and peppermint are the primary mints used not only for cooking but for tea.
Mint lends a refreshing flavor to fruit desserts, soups, and raitas (the palate-cooling salads featuring cucumber, typically served with curries) and has an affinity with green peas. Mint is often called for in the Middle Easter classic, tabouleh salad.
There is no substitute for fresh mint in beverages or as a garnish for fresh strawberries, melons, fruit salads, and chocolate puddings.
- Carrot Soup with Sage and Mint
- Ginger-Mint Limeade
- Vegan Feta and Watermelon Salad with Cucumber and Mint
Oregano and its cousin, marjoram come from small herbaceous plants that are so closely related to one another that they share a botanical name, origanum. Oregano is especially beloved in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cuisines.
Dried oregano is commonly used in salad dressings, soups, grain dishes, chili, and pizza.Why not swap in fresh oregano for these types of dishes? Used fresh, oregano is a lovely embellishment for tomato salads.
- Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Olive Oil)
- Vegetable Chickpea Flour Fritattas
- Romano Beans with Tomatoes and Cannellini
A most versatile culinary herb, parsley is common in both flat (sometimes called Italian) and curly leaf varieties. Flat-leaf parsley is packed with flavor; curly parsley is less so. The latter is more commonly used as a garnish.
The most common of fresh herbs, there’s never a reason to use it dried. It’s always available and inexpensive. It’s packed with flavor and fragrance, whereas dried parsley has very little.
The uses of parsley are too extensive to list; there are few categories of cuisine, aside from desserts, where it would be unwelcome. The fresh flavor of parsley is welcome in salads, salad dressings, soups, grain and bean dishes, casseroles, vegetable dishes, and herb breads.
- Pasta with Parsley Pesto and Summer Squashes
- Green Goddess Parsley Salad Dressing
- Sautéed Garlic Mushrooms with Sriracha and Parsley
- Quinoa Tabbouli
Rosemary comes from the leaves of a small evergreen shrub and is one of the most distinctly flavored of common herbs. It is most useful in tomato-based dishes, and may also be used in small amounts wherever a mixture of herbs is called for.
Rosemary is known in folklore as the herb of remembrance. And you’ll remember rosemary if you don’t use it sparingly, since its strong, piney flavor can be overpowering.
Rosemary is welcome in vegetable stews, herb breads, tomato soups, sauces, and gravies. They have a special affinity with potatoes, especially roasted. Sprinkle it on fall and winter roasted vegetable dishes about 5 minutes before they come out of the oven.
- Rosemary Potatoes with Collard Greens and Vegan Sausage
- Lemony Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
- Rosemary Focaccia Bread
Sage comes from the leaves of a small evergreen plant. Its strong, complex taste is best known as a flavoring for stuffings and sausages — both of which can be enjoyed in plant-based form.
In dishes that include tempeh, seitan, and vegan sausages, fresh sage heightens their hearty, “meaty” flavors. Fresh sage can be used in grain dishes (it’s especially good in wild rice pilafs) and as a garnish for squash, sweet potato, and soups.
A widely used herb that’s related to the mint family, thyme is a characteristic seasoning in classic French, Creole, and Cajun recipes, and is often part of dried herb mixtures.
Shake things up by using thyme fresh in soups, grain and bean dishes, potato dishes and tomato-based dishes. They all from its distinctive flavor.With their tiny leaves, sprigs of thyme are also an attractive for casseroles and other hot dishes.
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