How to cook with herbs
If you’re not already using herbs in your cooking, you’re missing out. Why? A little sprinkle of these powerful leaves is all you need for major taste. “herbs are such an easy way to add flavour to any recipe,” says Callum Hann, author of Quick. Easy. Healthy. and founder of cooking school Sprout. “Five seconds of effort means you’ll never have a bland meal!”
But if your herbs tend to wilt away in the fridge because you just don’t know what to do with them, allow us to educate you with our herbaceous how-to…
Keep it fresh
Rule number one when it comes to herbs? Fresh is best. “Nine times out of 10 I’ll use fresh herbs as they add flavour, and vibrancy and freshness, too,” explains Hann. Soft-leaf herbs like coriander, flat-leaf parsley, dill, mint and basil are a few go-tos to keep on hand – preferably in the garden or a pot so you have a ready supply! Toss them through a salad to give your greens extra interest.
But don’t forget dried…
Rule number two: dried herbs totally deserve a place in your kitchen as well. It’s just about knowing when to use them. “Dried herbs are great, especially when slow-cooking,” says Michael Moore, chef and owner of Sydney’s O Bar and Dining restaurant. “Italian pungent herbs such as thyme and rosemary add amazing flavour to your food. I still add more fresh herbs at the end for fragrance,” Hann uses dried herbs for marinades, as fresh leaves ten to burn and discolour over high heat.
Tear, don’t chop
How you prep your herbs could mean more flavour in your finished dish. Wait until the last minute, then “cut herbs with a sharp knife or even better, pick, rip and drop into your sauces as a last ingredient,” says Moore. The reason you should get hands-on? “Most of us don’t sharpen our knives as often as we should,” Hann explains. “As such, if you run your knife over a bunch of fresh herbs, it’s a great way to bruise them and end up with something resembling grass clippings!” If you’re making a curry or pesto, feel free to chop with a knife or use a food processor. Otherwise, “you’re better off simply tearing the leaves by hand,” says Hann.
Use the stems
Yep, there’s plenty more flavour in the bits you’d usually throw away. “The stems of almost all soft herbs (for example, dill, parsley, coriander and basil) can be used as well as the leaves. Chop basil stems and add to your Bolognese sauce. Use dill stalks in fish stew or risotto. Coriander stems and roots work well in curry paste and stir-fries and parsley stems in minestrone and stock,” tips Hann. “Even hard herb stems can be used sometimes – try rosemary skewers for lamb, and use a bunch of thyme to baste whatever you’re grilling on the barbeque.”
Store it right
The secret to keeping your pricey bunches of herbs alive in the fridge? Put ‘em in a plastic container. “The worst thing you can do is place the bunch directly in the fridge, not in a container – the inside of a fridge is such a harsh, dry environment that herbs stored this war will dry out very quickly,” explains Hann. If they’re fresh, you might find they last better placed in a vase of water and kept on the kitchen counter.
Unlock the oils
According to super chef Jamie Oliver, a quick way to extract more flavour from woody herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary is to hold them under hot water for a few seconds. The warmth loosens the natural oils in the leaves, ensuring more goodness makes it into your dish.
Reckon herbs are for savoury dishes? No way. “Don’t forget desserts!” says Hann. “At Sprout, we’ve made basil panna cotta, thyme and lemon cakes and rosemary custard, to name a few.”
This story originally appeared in the October issue of Women’s Fitness.