Cooking With Fresh Herbs
Cooking with frah herbs is a simple way to make anordinary dish extraordinary. It doesn't take advanced culinary skills to experiment with herbs. It just takes a desire to try something new. The results are tasty and impressive.
Guests and family will think you’ve got advanced culinary skills if you just add a few herbs in your dishes now and then. Tarragon, rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley, mint, garlic and thyme are a few of the more commonly used herbs. Start with these and go from there. You’ll be inspired by all your compliments.
It’s easy to purchase herbs at the grocery store. Fresh herbs, found in the produce section, are pricey. And then you’ve only got what you’ll use soon. Better to buy a small plant, which will be about the same price as what’s at the grocery. Herbs are easy to keep alive. All they need is a little sun, soil that’s pretty good and a word of encouragement from time to time. And having ready access to herbs makes it just that more tempting to add to a recipe.
Used for centuries, some dating back thousands of years, the properties herbs contain can be applied to a variety of purposes—from baths to medicines. The aroma of rosemary essential oil can cure some headaches instantly! For cooking, their primary benefit is in their flavor—although it can be argued that they are good for the soul as well.
Like tea? How about brewing some from your very own herb garden? Here are two simple ideas. Chamomile, with its soothing qualities, makes an excellent tea. Primary folk medicine uses are for restlessness and nightmares. Steep chamomile flowers in hot water for 10 minutes. Flavor and enjoy. Chamomile does not bloom until the second year, but it makes for a nice companion in the meanwhile with its leaves with the scent of apple.
Another tea idea is to steep 1 teaspoon of rosemary leaves for 10 minutes. Flavor with a little sugar or honey. This tea invigorates and gets you motivated to get to other tasks while enjoying the warmth of a non-caffeine boost. And don’t forget a sprig of mint in iced tea. Flavor with sugar and lime for a different twist from the ordinary.
Salad dressings become especially lively with the addition of herbs. Add thyme, oregano, basil, parsley or tarragon to prepared salad dressings (or put sprigs on the salad itself). Of course, making your own dressing is especially enjoyable. A vinaigrette made with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and garlic comes alive with any of these herbs added. Making the dressing ahead of time brings out the flavor of the herbs.
White sauce, brown sauce, egg sauces all become gourmet with a few herbs added. Hollandaise becomes béarnaise sauce with tarragon. Brown sauce flavors meats with gusto with rosemary, thyme, basil or oregano. And white, or cream sauce, makes a flavorful accompaniment for chicken, fish or vegetables with a few sprigs of these herbs. Run your hand over the herb and enjoy the scent. Then think of the sauce and the use and give it a shot. Add herbs to sauces purchased in a jar, a mix or made from scratch. The flavors of asparagus, broccoli and artichokes work particularly well with sauces.
And on the subject of sauces, how about fresh herbs for spaghetti sauce? Rather than reaching for the container of Italian Seasoning, make your own with thyme, basil and oregano—and don’t forget the parsley.
Cooking meats is easy with the addition of herbs. Roast beef, beef broth and rosemary are all you need for a hearty pot roast. Add rosemary, basil, oregano or thyme to marinades for grilling chicken or fish or in a basic casserole. Fresh herbs can be used with greater abandon than dried with one exception. A little rosemary goes a long way, so use sparingly.
The great herb for desserts has got to be mint. Mint can be grown in the yard and will come back bigger and healthier each year. Add to whipped cream on strawberry shortcake and crepe desserts. Chop and put on chocolate ice cream. Mix with apple jelly for a croissant. When used as a garnish, as with all the herbs, a dish looks like it jumped right off the pages of a magazine.
As fall nears, herbs will begin to flower and prepare for winter. Rosemary, mint, chamomile and thyme survive mild winters outside fairly well. Potted plants can be brought inside or harvest the leaves and dry for later use. Dry by hanging stems upside down in a well-ventilated place or wash and put the leaves between sheets of paper towels in the microwave to dry quickly. Microwave for a minute at a time until leaves are dry. Then place in spice containers, label and store on your shelf, content that the herbs you use are home-grown and there when you need them.
The primary thing to remember in cooking with herbs is to experiment. Their aroma gives you an indication how to use them in the kitchen. Enjoy and be surprised at how much they add to flavors in the meals you prepare.