Basil is best paired with almost any sort of tomato sauce and is most popular in Italian cooking. It also forms the basis for pesto, but is versatile enough to flavor lamb and fish, cheese and eggs, or to zest mild vegetables. Basil is best used fresh as its flavor diminishes significantly when dried. Most recipes asked for chopped basil leaves. For easy chopping, cooks should use the chiffonade method. Simply lay several basil leaves on top of one another, and then roll them like a cigar. Starting at the tip of your herbal cigar, chop the roll into several small sections. The thickness of the roll makes chopping easy, and with a few knife strokes you can have all your basil chopped in no time. Basil makes a popular plant for herbal gardens and sunny windowsills. To keep the leaves sprouting, and to prevent the plant from going to seed early, pinch off the flower stems the minute they appear. Preserve fresh flavor in Herb Butters or Pesto.
Refrigerate basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to 4 days. Or store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every 2 days. To preserve fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a container that can be tightly sealed. Alternatively, finely chop the cleaned basil and combine it with a small amount of olive oil. Freeze in tiny portions to flavor sauces, salad dressings, etc. To retain color of basil, blanche with boiling water before processing. Be sure to dry it well.
Dill has been used for thousands
of years. Even the Romans used dill and thought consumption and displaying
it brought good luck. Both the leaves and seeds may be used. The seeds are
the stronger of the two & are often found in pickling spices.
Dill grows well in warm climates and is cultivated all over the world.
Dried dill has the aroma of sun dried grass cuttings, the flavor is much the same. Fresh Dill has a pleasant aroma and flavor, and can be a little sharp. Dill is also used to flavor cucumbers for pickling.
Use fresh chopped dill in seafood and vegetable dishes. Carrots and fresh dill are a nice combination, as are yogurt, dill & cucumber which can be served as a cold soup or a salad.
Marjoram, a close but milder
relative of oregano, has been used in cooking for thousands of years. The
Greeks and Romans used marjoram as a sign of respect and placed it on the
graves of deceased friends and relatives.
Marjoram grows well in several different climates but favors warmer ones. Easy to grow.
Fresh Marjoram can be used in soups, sauces, and roasts, especially lamb. It is particularly good with mushrooms. Mix with other robust herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Marjoram is quite delicate, so it is recommended that it's use be toward the end of the cooking process to avoid dissipation of the aromatic essence.
Mushroom Pate with Marjoram: Cook 2 pounds of chopped mushrooms in butter or olive oil until they done, then turn the heat low and keep on cooking until the mushrooms are dark and intense. This can take half hour or more & they shrink considerably. Mix with softened cream cheese/sour cream/and or yogurt. To use as a sandwich spread, use 2/3 cream cheese to 1/3 sour cream or yogurt; for a dip use equal proportions or 2/3 sour cream or yogurt to 1/3 cream cheese. Add several handfuls of marjoram leaves stripped from the stem & black pepper. Garnish with fresh marjoram sprigs. A little chopped parsley may also be added. A good cream cheese substitute may be made with plain non-fat yogurt that is condensed by draining it overnight in the refrigerator in a coffee filter cone (use with a paper filter). For faster draining, put the plastic yogurt top on top of the yogurt-filled cone & place a weight (a jar of preserves, whatever) on it. Keep refrigerated.
Oregano is grown heavily
along the Mediterranean and is used generously in the region's cooking. Oregano
has a savory flavor that works well in hearty soups and pasta, as well as
fish and game.
Most pizza sauces are flavored with oregano, and it is also used liberally in Mexican dishes. Oregano is quite pungent, but it will quickly lose flavor if left too long to simmer. After thirty minutes, the herb will actually turn bitter. The thin leaves are best harvested when the stem tops are about four to five inches high. When the flower buds are visible and just about to open, oregano leaves are said to be at their most flavorful. Again like most herbs, oregano loves open, sunny garden spots. Its leaves are well adapted to drying if hung upside down in a warm, dry and shady spot.
Shrimp with Oregano & Feta Cheese: Saute a diced onion in a little olive oil, add 2 cups of fresh diced, seeded tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes & cook until thick. Add 1 lb cooked shrimp (or raw shelled, deveined shrimp, simmer until just done--about two or three minutes), add 1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves stripped from the stem, 1/4 to 3/4 cups of cubed feta cheese & heat through. Don't overcook. Serve over rice.
a crucial ingredient in the rather pungent Middle Eastern dish of tabouli,
it is also the worlds oldest breath freshener. The curly variety of parsley
commonly finds it way onto our plates as garnish, while the flat-leafed parsley
is almost exclusively reserved for cooking. Both have clear, refreshing flavors
that work well in raw salads or simmered soups, but don't add the stems to
the soup, just the leaves. Otherwise it turns the soup dark. Parsley is known
as a good companion herb as it blends well with both mild and strong herbs.
Parsley plants love sun, but will tolerate partial shade. They will not tolerate
long periods in dry soils. Parsley plants are slow to germinate and they are
also biennials meaning their flowers and seeds will not appear until two years
To promote the growth of parsley leaves over extended periods of time, pluck the flowers before they bloom. In the Middle East, parsley is eaten like a vegetable and is said to aid in digestion. In other parts of the world, parsley root is eaten for its flavor, and also its medicinal properties.
Parsley Soup: Saute a minced onion in a little butter or olive oil and add two large diced potatoes, 1/2 cup of white rice, 1 cup of chopped parsley (no stems) and about 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer half an hour. Just before serving, add 1 cup of fresh chopped parsley and 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Or add fresh parsley and cheese to each bowl and ladle hot soup over it.
Rosemary is a creeping-type perennial with spiky, short leaves. Rosemary sprigs are quite aromatic and used for flavoring lamb and pork, sausages and pates. Whole sprigs of rosemary are frequently tucked under the skin of game birds before roasting, or set in the oven to add flavor to baking bread. Rosemary sprigs can also be sprinkled over open coals before grilling so the meat will absorb the roasted herb flavor. Like basil, this herb is a mainstay in Italian cooking, but also popular in oil infusions with vinegar or wine. Rosemary works well in both its fresh and dried states. The plant prefers warm climates and well-drained soil. A contented rosemary plant can spread a good two or three feet producing plenty of herbal sprigs for even the most avid cook. Try garnishing a platter with rosemary instead of parsley or using rosemary as background greenery with flowers. You can even put it in hot bath water for an aromatic, relaxing soak.
Rosemary Potatoes: slice white potatoes, coat lightly with olive oil & place in a baking dish over branches of fresh rosemary. Cook at 350 until almost done--about 30 minutes--then sprinkle the potatoes with lemon juice and fresh chopped rosemary. Finish browning and serve. Decorate the platter with sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Tarragon French Tarragon is one of the most multi-faceted herbs in a cooks repertoire. Usually used in its dried form, tarragon is rich in flavor with overtones of anise and pepper. It is a classic for sauces like Béarnaise, but also useful with fish and eggs. Tarragon has a long-standing dislike of rosemary with which it does not mix well. Sage and thyme are also incompatible with tarragon, but parsley and chives complement its dominant character. Like most herbs, tarragon plants love sunny locales and can reach a height of up to two feet. The gray-green leaves are smooth and oblong, and their flavor intensifies when exposed to direct heat.
Mock Béarnaise Sauce.Add chopped fresh tarragon to mayonnaise for a quick sauce for salmon. Or make tarragon butter by adding chopped fresh tarragon to softened butter to use in cooking or as a spread.
Thyme has a few different
varieties including French and English, or Greenhouse and Wild. The greenhouse
variety is most widely available. This herb grows steadily in nearly any warm
climate and can make a nice ground cover in garden areas.
Thyme is native to the warmer European Countries, but is grown in nearly every country of the world.
Thyme has a delightful lemon aroma and can be sweet to pungent. A very common use of Thyme is in a Bouquet Garni which is used to flavor soups, sauces and stocks. Fresh thyme has the most flavor and can be used whole as the stem will lend flavor to a sauce after simmering. Thyme can be used to flavor roast meats, fish, chicken and game meats. Combine with highly aromatic herbs such as Rosemary to roast game meats such as Venison or Lamb. Strip the leaves from the stem & use in salads or soups. A few tablespoons of fresh thyme sprinkled over corn chowder catapults it from dull to extraordinary. Dried Thyme will keep for about 4 months.
Corn Chowder with Fresh Thyme: use roughly one ear of corn for every potato to every cup of liquid (chicken or vegetable stock or corn stock base). Peel & dice the potato into fairly small bits, boil in stock. When the potatoes are almost done, grate the corn into the boiling soup. If the corn is fresh, it will cook very quickly. A little diced onion (add early on or saute) is a good addition, as is a little milk or cream toward the end. Strip thyme leaves from their stems & just before serving add a few tablespoon or so of fresh thyme leaves to the pot & sprinkle more over the soup as it is served. Even if you use corn soup from a can or carton, the fresh thyme leaves make all the difference.
COOKING WITH HERBS
Fresh herbs can always be substituted for dried herbs at a ratio of three (fresh) to one (dried). In other words, if your recipe calls for one tablespoon of dried oregano, you can substitute three tablespoons of fresh oregano without losing any flavor. Long cooking tends to turn most herbs dark & sometimes bitter so add fresh herbs in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Then strew some chopped, fresh herbs over the dish just before it is served.
Bouquet Garni: A combination of herbs create complex aromas and flavors. Often these combinations (such as parsley, thyme & bay leaf) would be tied together in a little bundle which would be removed before serving the soup or stew. Such combinations came to be known as bouquet garni’s.
Herb Butters: Add fresh chopped herbs to softened butter. Not only is this a real time saver but it also helps to preserve fresh herbs. Refrigerate. Use in cooking or add to almost anything--fish, eggs, vegetables, etc. Spread on toast.
Herb Vinegars: Steep fresh herbs such as dill and tarragon in white wine vinegar. Leave a sprig or two of the herb in the bottle.
Epicurious.com has this to say about storing herbs:
Choose herbs that have a clean, fresh fragrance and a bright color without any sign of wilting or browning. They can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a barely damp paper towel and sealed airtight in a plastic bag for up to 5 days. For storage up to 10 days (depending on the herb), place the bouquet of herbs, stem end down, in a tall glass and fill with cold water until the ends are covered by 1 inch. Cover the top of the bouquet with a plastic bag, securing it to the glass with a rubber band. Alternatively, the herb bouquet may be placed in a screw-top jar in the same manner and sealed tightly. Either way, the water should be changed every 2 days. Just before using, wash the herbs and blot dry with a paper towel. Dried herbs are available year-round in metal or cardboard boxes, bottles, cellophane packages and unglazed ceramic pots. They have a stronger, more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, but quickly lose their pungency. Crushed or ground herbs become lackluster more quickly than whole herbs. The more airtight the storage container, the longer the herbs will last. Transfer those in cardboard, tin, unglazed ceramic or cellophane to small glass bottles or jars with screw-top lids. Each time you use the herb, make sure the lid is tightly resealed. Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place for a maximum of 6 months. After 3 months, it is best to refrigerate them. Herbs are used to flavor all manner of food and drink. Most should be used judiciously because many of them can be quite pungent.