Recipes and Cooking Techniques: Your Garden Herbs and How to Use Them

Herbs: Thyme, oregano and rosemary

Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary source: Wikipedia

 Herbs and spices are a healthy cook’s best friend.  They are excellent for enhancing the flavor of food without the addition of extra fat, sugar, or salt.  But herbs and spices have other benefits, as well.  They exhibit antimicrobal (germ-killing) properties, act as antioxidants, and may help prevent or decrease the spread of cancer.  For centuries, they have been used for medicinal purposes in addition to food flavoring and preservation.  So the next time you plant a garden, why not consider adding herbs to the mix.  They are typically very easy to grow (they can be grown almost in any and every region), require no special care and  most varieties come back year after year once they are properly established.

Here’s a list of some herbs you might consider for your garden and how they can be used…

Basil – Many varieties of basil exist, but most have shiny, light green leaves.  A member of the mint family, basil’s pungent leaves have a sweet clove-like taste.

Use to enhance: Italian foods, especially tomatoes and tomato sauces; pasta; chicken; fish and shellfish.

Bay Leaf – Bay leaves – usually sold as whole, dried leaves – are a woodsy herb with a slight cinnamon taste.  Their intense flavor can overpower food, so add them with caution.  Remove bay leaves from food before serving.

Use to enhance: Bean or meat stews; tomato dishes; soups; sauces

Caraway Seed Caraway seeds add a nutty, licorice flavor to foods.  The small tannish brown seeds are probably best known for their flavor in rye bread.

Use to enhance: Cooked vegetables, such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and winter squash.

Chervil – Chervil is an herb in the parsley family with curly dark green leaves.  It has a subtle flavor of licorice and lemon and offers the best flavor when fresh.

Use to enhance: French cuisine; fish and shellfish; chicken and turkey; vegetables, such as asparagus, eggplant, peas and potatoes; mixed salad greens.

Chives – Chives, a member of the onion family, have long, hollow green stems and a mild onion flavor.   Use fresh when cooking because dried chives have little flavor.

Use to enhance: Beef, chicken, turkey and seafood; vegetables, such as potatoes, cucumbers, corn, brussels sprouts and carrots; mixed green salads; sauces; soups; omelets; pasta.

Cilantro – Cilantro is an herb with a lively, citrus and evergreen-like flavor.  Its lacy green leaves complement spicy foods.

Use to enhance: Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisine; rice and beans; fish and shellfish; chicken and turkey; salsas; salads.

Marjoram – marjoram is similar to oregano but also has a minty, basil-like hint to it.

Use to enhance: Tomato-based dishes; beef, chicken, turkey and fish; beans and legumes; soups and stews; vegetables, such as carrots, eggplant, parsnips and cauliflower; eggs.

Oregano – Oregano is an herb with a somewhat sweet and peppery flavor.  Related to marjoram, oregano has a stronger, more pungent flavor.

Use to enhance: Italian and Greek cuisine; beef, lamb and fish; pasta and sauces; soups and stews; vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, mushrooms and summer squash.

Rosemary – Rosemary has needle-shaped leaves and a piney flavor.  Use rosemary sparingly because it can overpower food.

Use to enhance: Grilled beef and chicken; vegetables, such as potatoes, broccoli and turnips; savory breads; stuffing; pasta.

Sage – A strongly flavored herb, sage has a rich, musty-mint flavor.

Use to enhance: Chicken, duck and pork; bean stews and soups; vegetables, such as eggplant, sweet potatoes and winter squash; stuffing; rice.

Thyme – Thyme is an herb with a strong minty and somewhat lemon-like flavor.  Many varieties exist, but garden thyme is used most often for cooking.

Use to enhance: Chicken, turkey and fish; vegetables, such as eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash; beans and legumes; tomatoes and tomato-based dishes; soups and stews.

Tips

  • If using fresh herbs or spices, add 3 times the amount of dry.
  • Add dry herbs at the beginning of cooking and fresh herbs at the end.
  • Store fresh herbs in the fridge and dried herbs out of direct sunlight.
  • If you add too much seasoning when cooking, throw in a potato and let it absorb the extra flavor. Remove the potato before serving.
  • Fresh herbs that will not be used within a few days can also be rinsed, dried, chopped (or left whole), and frozen in plastic bags for later use.
  • Fresh herbs can also be dried for later use.  A simple drying method is to hang small bunches of fresh herbs in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.  Herbs should dry in 10-14 days using this method; they are done when a leaf rubbed between your fingers crumbles easily.  The dried herbs should be stored in tightly closed glass jars in a cool, dark place.
  • Another method for drying herbs is in the microwave oven.  Place two layers of paper towel on the bottom of the microwave, add a layer of herbs, and cover with two more layers of paper towel.  Run the microwave on high for two minutes, and then check the herbs for dryness.  If they are still moist, move the herbs around, run the oven again for another 30-60 seconds, and check again.  Repeat until the herbs are dry and store in tightly closed glass jars in a cool, dark place.

 

Sources: Mayo Clinic, theSpectrum.com; Marie Spano, M.S., R.D. Diabetes Self-Management

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