Saturday, March 03, 2007

All about Herbs - Great tips on Drying & Freezing

Normally I submit my "herby" posts for Weekend Herb Blogging - one of my favorite weekly blogging events, conceived and hosted by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen . But someone wrote asking me about a substitute for dill (more about that later) and in my research I came across this fabulous site and knew I had to share my find with all of you. It's the best encyclopedia for herbs, spices, vinegars and how to play with them that I've come across. Now, those of you who know me (or at least visited me at Once Upon a Feast), accept the fact that I am quickly and easily diverted. Today is no exception, because over at WhatsCookingAmerica there was a section on drying herbs. Now personally and ...shhhh - don't tell anyone...I sometimes end up with wilty or slimy herbs because I haven't used them up quickly enough that I have to throw out.

Let me digress for another moment about how I keep my fresh herbs fresh longer.

  1. Make sure the bunch is dry (very important). Often packaged herbs end up with moisture inside the wrapping and those left open in the market get sprayed, so make sure to separate the sprigs and pat them all dry when you get home.
  2. Using the same paper towel (you want slightly damp, but not wet) roll the entire bunch so no herb is exposed.
  3. My favorite part - use plastic wrap and (honestly this is not a commerical, but if you can find the Glad Press'n Seal, even better. Take a piece about 1"/2-2.5cm longer than the bunch and wide enough to enclose the paper towel wrapped bundle. Lay the bunch at one edge and tightly (you want to get as much air out as you can in the process - think poor man's vacuum seal) roll until the paper towel is completely wrapped and sealed.
  4. Most important- remember to do separate wraps for each herb and label the package with marker so you know which wonderful herb is which without having to undo the packs.

But back to my original thought - drying herbs.

When I actually do this (when I have to buy a HUGE bunch of something but the recipe only calls for a small amount - dill comes to mind, and while I do enjoy the flavor of dill on roasted salmon and in some of my soups and of course , my mother's chicken salad, I like variety and an entire week of nothing but dill dishes, does not appeal to me). But I digress again. Anyway, I have 2 ways I dry herbs - both air dry techniques...

  1. Suspend the bunch upside down from some hook or rack. (I do this in front of the window over my sink). Problem is, the bunch gets dusty, the leaves drop off into the sink or on the dish other words MESSY and it takes at least a few days, often more than a week, depending on the type of herb and size of the bunch.
  2. On waxed paper, spread over my dining room table. I separate the sprigs, leaving lots of space between them, and after a few days, flipping the sprigs periodically, I have dried herbs which I then gently remove from the stems and funnel into bottles or jars. I must mention that our dining room table is where we eat all our meals, use as an office, and often, functions as counter space for cooking, so it's not really a great option for herb drying....

Which leads me to these ideas mentioned on WhatsCookingAmerica...

Using the oven:

  1. Preheat the oven to its lowest setting and line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Spread clean, dry sprigs evenly and put them in the oven for 12 hours or so

Using the microwave (I haven't tried this yet, so still a little sceptical)

  1. Make sure the herbs are dry.
  2. Place them on paper towels on a plate in the microwave.
  3. Zap on high for a minute to start (at that point they appear "wet"). Stir them, zap again for another minute, move around again, and zap approximately 30 seconds more or until they are dry and crumbly.

Last step is the same for all methods: Rub the dried sprigs between your hands gently to break up, pick out any twiggy parts and put the dried crumpled leaves into small jars or baggies. Don't forget to label them with a marker that will be clearly visible over time. Seems obvious, but this is especially important on baggies.

Oh, the photo at the top of the post.... (I was hunting through my collection of photos to find a nice herb blend and this one, although not the prettiest, instantly had my mouth drooling.) It's a parsley gremolata that I originally used sprinkled over Osso Bucco. Now I love it over sauteed spinach, or scrambled eggs, in a fact, it gives a punch to just about anything.

And the wonderful thing about gremolata, is that you can change it up culturally just by changing the herb. Use cilantro instead of parsley and it's Latin. Of course, technically it won't be gremolata, but I guarantee it will be delicious. Take it up a notch and add a few more ingredients and you have an awesome chimichurri (South American).

And what started this post in the first place was the question someone in India had who wanted to make my chicken salad recipe and couldn't find any dill. She wants to know what would be a good substitute. (Dill in Hindi is Suwa, I discovered.) I am still looking for a similar tasting herb, and if any of you (particularly those of you from India can think of an herb that's close in flavor, leave a comment. In the meantime, when I can't find fresh dill (or the bunch is so huge I know I'll never use it all), I'll give my chicken salad a different flavor by using cilantro/coriander leaves, parsley or basil. You could use oregano, but I'd use only a small amount as it's quite a bit stronger in flavor than the others.

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

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1 comment:

Kalyn Denny said...

Ruth, great tips for keeping herbs longer. I've frozen some herbs, but never dried them, Great post.