Thursday, August 10, 2006

Basic Herbs for Your Pantry

I'm often asked which herbs to use when. So here's what comes to mind....just my favorites, but everyone has their own. I will continue to add to this list over time. Please help me out by letting me know your favorites....check the bottom of the post to see how you can contribute.

I love to have all kinds of fresh herbs in the fridge so that whatever mood I'm in, the herb is there. Of course, that also means that often the herb I want NOW has been in the fridge too long and is too slimy for use. That's when I always head for the pantry where I store my dried herbs and spices.

Before I give you my favorite dried herbs, let me tell you the best way to keep your fresh herbs fresher longer. When you get home from the grocery store or market, make sure they're dry and wrap them in paper towels. Put them in a zip lock baggie. I keep each herb in a separate baggie so the cilantro (coriander) won't smell like basil etc... They'll stay fresh for at least a week. Keep them in the fridge. Sometimes I'm lucky (especially in the summer) and I can find large basil plants with roots still attached. I just find a large vase, fill it with water and have fragrant basil on my kitchen counter for as long as I keep the water fresh. Since it's by far my favorite herb, that's usually only a week or so.

So now on to which herbs I consider "must haves" - and for stews and slow cooking sauces and roasts, dried is MUCH better anyway. Delicate-leaved fresh herbs like basil, oregano and cilantro/coriander are too delicate to stand up to much heat and add more flavor to the dish if you just add them near the end of cooking or as a garnish when serving.

The link behind each herb below takes you to Wikipedia for detailed info. You can type in whatever herb you've never heard of and it will tell you alot about it.

For your convenience, I'm just going to tell you some dishes I use each one for.

Remember - I tbsp of fresh = 1 tsp dried. Dried stands up better to slow cooking like soup, stew or roast. Taste about halfway through cooking to see if you want to add more or not. Add fresh towards the end of the cooking process if you like - it's optional.

Basil - Fresh - salads, for making pesto, last minute pastas and omelets & frittatas.
Dried - soups, chicken, shrimp, tomato based sauces

Bay leaves- photo & description coming soon

Cilantro/Coriander - It's also known as Chinese or Mexican parsley in some places.
Fresh - although I have (rarely) found dried cilantro leaves, they are most commonly found fresh, and often with roots attached, which if you pulse along with the leaves makes a more flavorful addition to Thai style marinades. I love chopped cilantro in salads, as garnish on thick soups & stews and sprinkled over grilled or pan fried fish
Seeds (fruit) are ground and are common in Indian dishes.

Curry Leaves- photo & description coming soon

Dill - I love to roast salmon on a bed of fresh dill or finely chop it and add to tuna or chicken salad. My family's chicken soup would never be the same without the dill. I only keep the dried for desparate times.

Lemongrass - photo & description coming soon

Lime Leaves- photo & description coming soon

Mint - Fresh is awesome on fresh fruit, salads (especially tabouleh), steeped it makes great tea
Dried - stews, chicken, fish, lamb.

Oregano - Fresh - salads, omelets and frittatas
Dried - soups, stews, chicken, shrimp, fish, lamb, tomato based sauces, rub with spices & garlic for ribs and roasts, sprinkle on pizza just before you put them in the oven to cook/heat up. Even store bought pizza tastes amazing when you add some oregano.

Here's what Rosa does with oregano "..use in the meat marinade for Greek "Souvlaki" along with paprika, cumin, pepper, garlic powder and salt. I sprinkle dried oregano over my pizza or add it to salads (chickpea salad with tahini dressing)..."

Parsley - Fresh- salads, soups, frittatas and omelets, steamed vegetables (especially wonderful on boiled potatoes) as a garnish.
Dried - soup, stew, tomato based sauces, roasts, chicken, fish, lamb.

Rosemary I have a plant outside my front door so I prefer to use fresh but dried is just as good - just use much less of it. I love it on roasted potatoes, chicken, sea bass or other meaty fish, lamb. Check out this use - as skewers to BBQ sea bass.

Thyme - Fresh or dried is about the same with this herb. Great whipped in with the eggs to make French Toast, I love it on sweet potatoes. Good for thick soups and stews( just put in branches of thyme, don't bother removing the leaves from the stems - the cooking will separate them naturally and all you have to do is skim out the stems before serving) and roasts.

Rosa...It is fine with "Arroz Brasileiro" (see my recipe), any South American or Caribbean style rice, in meatballs, vegetable stir-fries...

Let's see what ideas you come up with. Please share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

Related links:


Christa said...

Oh, I can so relate to the herbs in the fridge -- just the one you need at the moment -- and they're slimy! LOL!

This is a great compilation of all the herbs and their uses. Great idea.

Here are a few things I would add:

Parsley - If you have a lot of fresh parsley, it's great for making a Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad.

Oregano -- Used a lot in Greek cooking. It's great for combining with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil to make a marinade for chicken.

Rosemary -- I love it for any pork dish.

Cumin -- Gives a distinctive flavor to any Latin-style dish, such as salsa or black bean and corn salad.

Red chili flakes -- I use these a lot to give pasta dishes a bit of a kick. Saute with olive oil and garlic so the peppery taste gets infused into the oil.

Ruth Daniels said...

Thanks Christa, I'll be adding your suggestions to the list.

As for the spices you mentioned, I'm compiling a separate post just for them...stay tuned and cumin and red chilli flakes will definitely be there.

Thanks for dropping by and the great additions.