How to Buy, Store and Use Fresh Herbs

Herbs not only add flavor and color to a dish, they are also quite nutritional as well.  And to get the most of all three – flavor, color and nutritional value, you want to ideally use fresh herbs over their dried counterparts.  Now, many people do use fresh herbs, but they could use some pointers when it comes to purchasing herbs, storing herbs and preparing and using herbs.  So, read on to turn your “Herbs how?” into “Herbs know-how!”.

How To Buy Fresh Herbs

* Choose herbs that both look and smell fresh.  Don’t be shy.  Open up the plastic box and take a sniff.  Some herbs are stronger smelling than others, but they all should be aromatic.

* Avoid any herbs that have no aroma, or have leaves that are wilted, browned or yellowing.

How To Store Fresh Herbs

* Herbs with sturdier stems (such as rosemary and sage) can be refrigerated in their original packaging for 7-10 days.

* Basil, parsley, cilantro and other delicate herbs need more careful storage.  Remove any ties or rubber bands, and snip off the roots or ends.  Wrap the herbs loosely in a damp paper towel and store in a ziploc bag with a few holes poked in it for air.  This will keep those more delicate herbs fresh for up to 5 days.

* Basil can actually be stored at room temperature for a few days.   Trim the stems and place in a jar of cool water on your countertop.  It will start to turn black if it gets too cold.

* Don’t wash herbs before refrigerating them.  The moisture will make them spoil.

* If you can’t use up all the herbs before they go bad, freeze them in recipe-size quantities.  Just clean and pat dry your herbs, then wrap a few sprigs in plastic wrap and place in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer.

* You can also puree’ herbs in a food processor with some extra-virgin olive oil and freeze the paste in an ice cube tray.  Your herb-cubes can then quickly and easily be added to your dishes one serving at a time.  No waste and all taste!

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How To Prepare Fresh Herbs

* When you’re ready to use your fresh herbs, rinse the sprigs under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels.  You can also spin them dry using a salad spinner.

* For fresh herbs with tough stems such as thyme or rosemary, hold the stem with one hand and run your other hand along it to strip off the leaves.

* Long-stemmed fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro just need the lower stems cut off.  When fine chopping either of these herbs for your recipes, it’s fine to chop the upper stems along with the herb leaves all-together.

* With any of these mentioned herbs, once you’ve removed the stems, gather the herb leaves together into a pile and chop with a non-serrated knife, or snip with kitchen shears.  Herbs with more tender leaves, such as basil, can also be torn rather than chopped.

How To Use Fresh Herbs

* When adding fresh herbs to potato salad or other cold dishes, give the flavors some time to develop by allowing the dish to set in the fridge before serving.

* When adding fresh herbs to hot dishes, always add towards the end of the cooking time, or toss-in just before serving.  Fresh herbs lose a lot of their punch when heated.

* As a general rule, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs (approximately 1/3 as much).  Always start sparingly and add more to taste.  It’s always much harder to undo an over-seasoned dish.  If you do choose dried herbs, try to purchase freeze-dried varieties, as they’ll retain their freshness, aroma, color and nutritional value longer.

Limp Herb Tip: To refreshen limp-looking herbs, slice and inch or two off the bottom of the stems, and place in a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes.

5 Quick and Easy Herbal Eats

Dill Dip – Mix equal parts of soy sour cream and plain soy yogurt, and add-in fresh dill, a dash or two of fresh lemon juice, sea salt and black pepper to taste.  Serve with veggie sticks or baked chips.

Rosemary Mustard – Stir together your favorite grainy mustard with some finely chopped fresh rosemary, a pinch of grated orange zest and a dash of orange juice (optional).  Stir well, and use as a dip for pretzels or as a sandwich spread.

Basil Butter – Combine softened vegan margarine with minced fresh basil.  Mix extra-well.  Spoon into a small bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow flavors to blend.  This goes especially well spread on ears of corn, as a baked potato topping or spread on a fresh loaf of Italian or French bread and sliced and toasted in the oven.

Parsley Croutons – Toss some crusty bread cubes with extra-virgin olive oil, minced fresh parsley, sea salt and black pepper.  Bake in a single layer at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until just crispy.

Minted Berries – Gently mix sliced strawberries with a tablespoon or two of real sugar, balsamic vinegar (rasberry infused is best), lemon juice and some torn fresh mint.  Let sit for 30 full minutes to allow all the ingredients to absorb together, and for the flavors to develop.  Eat as is, or spoon over some coconut or rice milk ice cream, Italian ice or your favorite vegan cake recipe.

Using fresh herbs is easy, once you know how.  And, once you get used to all that extra flavorful goodness, you won’t be so ready to just resort to using the dried kind.  That’s what you call real herbal essence!

Bon Veggie Appetit!

Gina ‘The Veggie Goddess’ Matthews

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