September 20, 2012

Cooking with Fresh Herbs


Herbs, herbs, herbs. There is nothing better than the addition of fresh herbs to finish off a dish and add that extra flavour and colour. I have had quite a few emails from viewers asking three things about cooking with herbs; where to buy them, how to use them and generally what they are. So here is a quick little article I wrote for you outlining the main features of these wonderful herbs including serving suggestions and recipe ideas for your inspiration. Have fun reading! Note: all of the photos on this page are taken of our own-grown herb plants! Weeee... so exciting :)

   
I believe that basil is one of the easiest herbs to use. Basil also known as sweet basil is prominently used in Italian cuisine and is also incorporated in many Asian dishes. The leaves are used chopped or whole and commonly seen accompanying tomatoes in dishes such as pastas, pesto, pizzas or salads and can be used for garnishes, vinegars and dressings. When processing fresh basil you can also use the stems if desired.

There are over 50 types of basil plants which give cooks a large variety of flavours and textures to choose from. Their flavours range from tastes similar to star-anise, cinnamon and sweet varieties. You can purchase basil in fresh bunches or dried form. Fresh basil bunches are commonly used for their leaves which are thick and somewhat rubbery. These leaves can be for fresh or cooked dishes and have a stronger and emit a more beautiful aroma than the dried sort. Dried forms can be used in soups, sauces and generally anything that is normally cooked. Fresh and dried basil can usually be purchased from your local supermarket and fruit and veg store. Look for the leaves which are firm, green and perky!

See our Pesto Pasta, Pesto Pizza and Tomato and Basil Pasta for inspiration. 


    
Coriander is also known as cilantro and is commonly used in Asian, Indian, African and Mediterranean dishes. Coriander leaves are hairless and soft and can be incorporated in fresh or cooked dishes such as Guacamole or used as garnishes for spicy dishes as I have done with my Thai Red Curry Pumpkin SoupEnchiladas and Thai "Chick-Un" Pizza. The leaves are often used as garnishes due to heat decreasing the intensity of the flavour when cooked. Thus, coriander is often seen raw on top of dishes as a finishing touch.

Dried coriander and coriander seed is often used in Indian dishes and in many other cooked dishes. The flavours of the different types of plants range from "soapy" flavours to a slight citrus taste. 

Fresh bunches can be purchased from your local supermarket and fruit and veg store. Look for the leaves which are bright green with firm stems.

    
The first image that comes to mind when thinking of mint, is the cool and fresh taste commonly associated with mojitos, mouthwash and chewing gum. However, mint is also used in many cooking dishes including mint sauces accompanying roast vegetables, garnishing potatoes and peas, vegan yoghurts, tzatziki and tabbouleh. It is most popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. The most commonly used mint plants are spearmint and peppermint with peppermint having the most strong minty taste. 

Mint plants are most commonly used for their leaves which are quite rough and patterned. You can usually buy fresh mint and dried mint leaves from your local supermarket and fruit and veggie store. Look for fresh bunches with perky green leaves and firm stems. 

    
Parsley is such an easy herb to use in the kitchen. You could probably say that it is the most used herb in the world. From garnishing to parsley vinaigrettes, it is so versatile with nearly every dish. There are two types of parsley; flat-leaf and curly-leaf. The flat-leaf type has a stronger flavour and can be retain its flavour under heat. Flat-leaf parsley can often be mistaken for coriander due to the similar leaf shape. On the other hand, curly-leaf parsley is most used as a garnish or for un-cooked sauces. But you can use either as you desire. It is seen most commonly in Middle Eastern dishes and in dishes such tabbouleh, burger patties, salads, falafel etc... The parsley leaf is the most used part of the plant in cooking and ganrnishes. However, many times when making parsley pesto or parsley sauces I have processed the whole plant including the stem. It just depends on your own liking. 

You can normally buy fresh parsley bunches and dried parsley from your local supermarket. Fresh parsley can be used in cooked and raw dishes while maintaining its beautiful flavour. The dried version is most often used in cooked dishes such as marinades or soups. Look for fresh bunches that have maintained their leaf shape, are not wilted and with firm stems. 

    
Rosemary is a woody and very fragrant herb with sharp, pin-like leaves. The plant is often seen in cooks gardens due to the fragrance and pretty blue, white, pink or purple leaves. Rosemary is said to have many medicinal uses including its ability to improve memory. 

Commonly associated with Mediterranean dishes, it can also be used in a variety of ways such as in my Pumpkin Rosemary Risotto or Tofu and Baby Spinach Lasagne. With such a strong taste, rosemary is used sparingly compared to other herbs. One sprig is normally used per dish. When incorporating rosemary into a dish, the leaves are used and consumed and the stem is normally discarded. However, in some circumstances such as lasagnes or roasts, the whole sprig is placed on the surface of the food and discarded after cooking. This allows the rosemary spring to infuse the dish without having to consume the actual plant. Dried rosemary is also available and is commonly used in cooked meals. However, fresh rosemary leaves have a stronger taste and emit a more beautiful aroma than the dried sort.

You can buy fresh bunches or dried rosemary from your local supermarket or fruit and veggie shop. Look for rosemary bunches with green firm leaves with a strong and fresh fragrance. 

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2 comments :

  1. I freeze store bought bunches of basil (because it always goes bad before I use it all). Basically I have a bowl of olive oil, I dip the leaves in then transfer to the freezable container. I try to layer them so it's slightly easier to get out. But you can just scoop it out with a spoon if necessary. Tastes fresh even though the leaves have gone a little clear due to freezing with the oil. But so much better than wasting a delicious herb! (Saves money too)

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