Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ten Things To Do with Fresh Herbs

When I talk to people about starting to grow some of their own food, herbs are one of the things I encourage them to start with. They are generally really hardy and will survive with less-than-expert care, they can be grown in containers (even small pots on a sunny windowsill), many of them will tolerate shadier conditions, and, most important of all, they provide meals with some major pizazz with little time or money invested.

In a good growing season, you will likely end up with way more herbs than you know what to do with!
The herbs in my garden all seem to be getting bigger by the minute with the onslaught of heat we've had the past few days. While sharing them with family, friends, and neighbours (or your produce cooperative) is always an option, there are plenty of ways you can make use of them in your own kitchen.

Here are some of my favourite ways to use fresh herbs: 

1. Salads and salad dressings: You can toss chopped herbs into just about any kind of salad, whether it be a leafy green salad, a grain-based salad like my Southwestern-Spiced Barley and Vegetable Salad, or a chunky vegetable and bean salad like my Build a Bean and Cucumber Salad. Of course, fresh herbs are perfect for salad dressings, too and can be tossed into almost any kind of dressing - they are delicious in my Buttermilk and Herb dressing or my Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.

2. Egg dishes: Eggs and herbs are fantastic together. Fresh herbs are an absolute must in a summer omelette at our house, and they are also a wonderful addition to a quiche.

For both of the above purposes, I'm particularly fond of using a random blend of parsley, chives, basil and oregano.

3. Teas: Fresh mint makes a fantastic tea and couldn't be simpler to make. Stuff a few large sprigs of mint in your teapot, fill with boling water and steep for about 15-20 minutes (for lots of other ways to use mint, check out this post). Other fresh herbs good for making tea are lemon balm, lemon verbena, chamomile, catnip and raspberry leaf (if you have raspberry canes in your garden). If you want to try making your own herbal sun teas, check out this YouTube video.

4. Pasta toppers and pestos: Many pasta dishes can be elevated to a new level of deliciousness with a sprinkling of fresh herbs over top. Creamy sauces such as Alfredo or other cheese- or cream-based sauces are particularly tasty this way. And of course, there is the classic heavy-on-the-herbs pasta dish: pesto. You don't have to make it just with basil, though! There are many recipes for pestos using other herbs. Try using parsley and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in place of the basil and pine nuts in your favourite pesto recipe!

5. Meat marinades: Adding fresh herbs to marinades is a great way to enhance the flavour of all types of meat and poultry. For a really easy chicken marinade, stir about 1/4 cup of chopped herbs (thyme and rosemary are particularly good with chicken, and parsley, chives, basil and oregano will all work, too) into 3/4 cup of buttermilk and pour over 8 chicken thighs, turning to coat. Let sit several hours or overnight in the fridge.

6. Fancy iced drinks: Make herbal lemonade by using one of your favourite herbal tea blends in place of the cold water in any basic lemonade recipe (you can find an easy one here). You can also freeze herb leaves in ice cubes to add to your cold drinks, or simply toss a fresh sprig of mint or basil right in the glass.

7. Vinegars: Herbal vinegars are an easy way to add the taste of fresh herbs to your salads throughout the long winter months. They are quick and easy to make, too - check out this post where I show you how I make mine (I'm going to try making them with apple cider vinegar rather than white vinegar this year).

8. Honey: Herb-infused honeys are delicious, and can also be medicinal, too. I make a lemon-thyme honey that I pull out whenever we've got a cough or cold - it could also be used for culinary purposes, too. If you have lavender growing in your garden, it makes a wonderful infused honey perfect for stirring into tea or drizzling over pancakes

9. Oils: Herb-infused oils can be used for either culinary or medicinal purposes. When using fresh herbs, simply combine about 3/4 cup chopped herbs and one cup of oil (I prefer olive) in a clean glass Mason jar and let steep for 2-3 weeks. Strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. A lavender or chamomile infused oil is great for making an all-purpose salve or adding to your bath water; use your favourite combination of culinary herbs to make an infused oil you can use for dressings and marinades.

10. In the bathroom: Fresh herbs elevate a hot bath to new levels of relaxation! Lavender, mint, chamomile, lemon balm or lemon verbena are all wonderful additions to the tub. They also make great room fresheners - simply gather up a bouquet of fresh herbs and place it strategically in a vase in your bathroom.

I'm sure I could find many more uses for fresh herbs, but I'm going to stop there for now! At least I hope I've conveyed just how versatile they can be and given you some new ideas to try.

If you find yourself as hooked on herbs as I am, I highly recommend the book The Herbal Kitchenby Cami McBride, which is just packed full of recipes using both fresh and dried herbs (yes, that is an affiliate link!).

What are your favourite ways to use fresh herbs?

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