Cooking With Fresh Herbs

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A step-by-step guide to cooking with fresh herbs, including how to choose the right herb for each dish, and some of our favorite recipes!

I have read all sorts of how to cook with herb books and articles, and in the end I found the best way to learn was to just do it. I finally stepped out of the comfort zone and started using them to suit myself. If it tasted good I used it, If it was overpowering I used less. Some herbs, in my opinion, are useless as culinary ingredients.

Two that immediately come to mind are parsley and cilantro. Parsley tastes like something a cow would really enjoy. I love coriander, but loathe its mother plant cilantro, it tastes like something a skunk would relish. Of course, those that I loathe are enjoyed by others, so I grow them right alongside my favorites.

Don’t be intimidated by television chefs telling you how to use herbs. Go with your own instincts, the worse that could happen is you would have to throw a dish or two out. Make mental or written notes when you stink it up, and do better next time. Take a pinch of whatever herb you’re considering, and chew it, taking note of how it affects your palate. Don’t be scared of them, unless you go way overboard it’s hard to use too much.

I love rosemary and thyme, and use those regularly in all sorts of dishes. They have a bright, pungent flavor and aroma that really kick a dish up to the next level. I chop the rosemary, but leave the thyme whole because the leaves are so tiny. Sometimes I leave the rosemary whole, especially if I’m grilling.

Sage is one of the most aromatic and flavorful herbs I grow. I love the smell of sage and can’t walk past a sage plant without fondling the leaves to stir the oils around. I use it a good deal to add warmth to casseroles and meat dishes. Most people just associate it with dressing and stuffing, but it’s more versatile than that. Don’t get locked into culinary habits … if it tastes good, do it.

Another favorite of mine that gets a lot of attention is oregano. While most cooks think of Italian dishes when it comes to oregano, I use it all over the place. It’s also available all year long in the garden, I love to have fresh herbs in the winter.

Cooking with herbs is not hard to learn, but just following cookbook directions will not allow you to really experience the intricacies of individual herbs. Step out of the box and cook to please yourself, you’ll be glad you did.