How to Store and Use Fresh Herbs in Cooking: A Guide to Adding Creative Flavour and Colour to Meals
Herbs are versatile and make a huge difference when used in dishes. Many chefs resort to using the dried variety of herbs which are commonly available of all supermarkets. However it is very easy to grow herbs at home, either in a herb garden or a window-box.
Top Tips for Growing Herbs
- After a season of growth, herbs can be transplanted outdoors.
- Mint and tarragon are best planted in their own individual pots otherwise the roots quickly take over the whole container.
- Placing a bowl of water near the herbs will keep the air humid, therefore promoting growth.
- Keep herbs neat and tidy. The more they are trimmed, the more vigorously they grow.
- Take leaves from the outside of the plants so that new shoots appear from the centre and stops plants from become straggly.
Ways to Use Herbs
Using herbs to liven up a meal will bring a taste of the exotic to the dining table. The following ideas can be adapted to include any combination of herbs.
Herb cubes – Drop mint leaves and borage flowers into an ice-cube tray. Add water and freeze to make a refreshing addition to cool drinks of iced tea or mineral water.
Tarragon vinegar – This can be used as a delicious dressing for a green salad with extra zing. Put three sprigs of fresh tarragon into a wide-mouthed container and pour over 600ml of white wine vinegar.
Cover tightly and leave on a sunny window sill for three weeks. Strain and pour into a sterilized bottle. The vinegar, which can be given as gifts, will keep for up to four months.
Herb bouquet- Making a bouquet garni is a simple way of imparting delicate flavours to slow-cooked dishes.
To make a herb bouquet, tie two sprigs of parsley, one sprig of thyme, one sprig of marjoram and a bay leaf.
Fragrant oil- When vegetables or other ingredients need to be fried, a subtle flavour can be added by using oil infused with herbs. To make such an oil, put six sprigs of rosemary in a bottle and pour 600ml of cold vegetable oil over.
Allow to stand for four weeks before straining and storing in a sterilized bottle.
Top Herbs For Cooking
- Dill – a deliciously spicy herb which makes an unusual addition to apple pie. It is also great with homemade pickles and chutneys.
- Hyssop – this herb has an affinity with peaches, apricots and cranberries. It adds a peppery flavour to cooked vegetables.
- Savory – also known as the bean plant, savory is delicious cooked with peas, beans and lentils.
- Sorrel – Cook a few leaves with spinach, or add to salad for a sharp tang. Sorrel also makes an excellent soup.
- Sage is tasty in nut roasts. It is also great when baked with onions, chopped into soups and in salads.
- Fennel – with its aniseed flavour, fennel is delicious in cauliflower or macaroni cheese. The seeds can also be baked in cakes and bread.
- Salad burnet – this is a real summer herb, with a distinctive cucumber taste. It is great used in fruit cups and cheese dishes.
- Nasturtium – the large leaves, flowers and seeds can be used in salads and sandwiches. Try cream cheese and marmite.
Fresh herbs are so much better to use in cooking than dried herbs due to their flavour. They add individuality to meals, while their essential oils give beneficial nutrients to diets.
Using herbs can easily transform a cook's favourite recipe and liven-up everyday meals. They give cooks the chance to be inventive, and put extra character and colour into cooking.