Let me ask you a question: how often do you use fresh herbs in your kitchen?
If you had asked me this question ten years ago, my answer would have been “rarely, if at all.” However, if you were to ask me this question now, my answer would be “daily.”
I assist with a lot of cooking classes around Seattle and I often hear participants complaining about the con’s of fresh herbs: they’re too expensive, they go bad quickly, and they’re hard to use.
I definitely understand the challenges of fresh herbs, but I believe the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Herbs add so much flavor and nutrients to meals and they’re also a wonderful way to make a dish look more visually appealing by adding a little color. My hope today is to share a few simple tricks I’ve learned in my kitchen when it comes to dealing with fresh herbs that will make it easier for you to use fresh herbs and get the benefits in your recipes.
Cost is often the first thing that comes to mind about fresh herbs, but the truth is that most fresh herbs aren’t really that expensive. Fresh organic cilantro, parsley, or chives can range from $1 – $1.79 per bunch in Seattle (and, of course, non-organic varieties are even cheaper). Organic basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage tend to be a bit pricier at the grocery store and range from $2.50 – $4, depending on the size of the bunch.
In my experience, fresh herbs tend to be much cheaper at the farmers’ market. I’m usually able to get a giant bunch of herbs for $1 – 2 and I get to support a local farmer in the process. (win, win!)
Another great way to reduce the costs of fresh herbs is to grow your own. During the summer I usually grow a small herb garden on my back porch using either seeds or starts. If you don’t have a small outdoor space, you can always use a sunny window and grow herbs indoors.
2. Use ’em!
Of course, the best way to make sure you get your money’s worth is to actually use fresh herbs and don’t let them go to waste!
If you know that you have a bad habit of letting herbs go to waste, I’d definitely recommend buying yourself a handy pair of herb scissors.
Herb scissors make it easy to cut fresh herbs in a matter of seconds and I’ve found it much easier to use herbs often in my kitchen when I have my herb scissors around. Herb scissors are quicker than using a knife, don’t take up lots of storage room, and work great for shredding greens as well!
In order to make sure herbs don’t go to waste, I usually pick up one bunch of herbs per week (if I’m not growing my own at the moment), and then use them in 2 – 3 main entrees, as well as tossing them in with salads. If there are any extra leftover, I’ll often make a small batch of pesto (see below for more storage tips and tricks to help you use leftover herbs).
I use basil, cilantro, and Italian parsley the most in my kitchen because these herbs tend to work well with the types of recipes I cook. If you’re new to working with fresh herbs, here are a few simple flavor combinations that work well in a variety of recipes:
- Summer – Basil and lemon: great for fish, grilled vegetables, and salads.
- Fall and Winter – Cilantro and jalapeño: great for soups, beef and chicken dishes, tacos, and bean entrees.
- Spring – Parsley and shallots: great for salads, soups, and light entrees.
3. Store Them Properly
Storing herbs properly is another great way to make sure your herbs last so they can actually be used and you’ll get all the benefits from them:
- Storing parsley and cilantro: dry herbs with a paper towel, trim the ends, and store them in a glass jar of water in the fridge to preserve them. They will last up to a full week (and even longer) using this method.
- Storing basil: dry herbs with a paper towel, trim the ends, and store them in a glass jar of water at room temperature out of direct sunlight.
- Storing hardy herbs (e.g. thyme, rosemary): lighly dampen a paper towel and roll up the herbs loosely in the towel. Store in a plastic bag (or glass container) in the refrigerator. Do not rinse the herbs until just before using.
- Freezing herbs: chop fresh herbs and mix with a little olive oil or coconut oil and freeze in ice cube trays. You can toss these cubes into soups, stir fries, or sauces for extra flavor!
What are your favorite tips for using herbs in your kitchen? Share them in the comments below!0