Using More Herbs in Your Kitchen

Cooking with fresh herbs isn’t just for gourmet chefs. Fresh herbs pack flavor and nutrition. In this article, we will answer your questions about which herbs pair with which types of food? How much to use? When to add in the cooking process? What to do with leftovers?

Thyme - herbs at We Grow

Thyme grown at We Grow LLC in 2015

Fresh vs. Dried

Choosing between fresh or dried herbs is a matter of preference. Some chefs advise against using fresh when cooking a dish that needs to simmer longer than 45 minutes. Dried herbs pack a stronger, more condensed flavor, so if you’re substituting dried herbs in the place of fresh, then you’ll need to cut the amount in half.
Dried herbs will eventually lose their flavor and should be replaced after one year. There is also evidence that suggests a substantial amount of nutrients are lost in the drying process.
Although fresh herbs tend to have a softer flavor, subtlety when cooking is not necessarily a bad thing. Strive for a balanced blend of flavors so that one ingredient does not dominate the dish.

What to look for when buying

Harvest herbs as close to your cooking time as possible. When buying, look for vibrant color and aroma. Farmer’s markets typically offer the freshest, most flavorful herbs. Herbs packed in plastic should get a sniff test. If you can’t smell them then chances are you won’t be able to taste them.
Avoid limp and soggy bundles with any discoloration in the form of black spots or general yellowing. Grocery stores often overspray their produce to give the illusion of freshness, when in fact, excessive watering encourages rot and mold.

How to pretreat and  store herbs

If you’re not using your herbs immediately, you’ll want to pretreat them before refrigerating. First remove any fasteners. Ties and rubber bands can bruise fragile plants affecting their longevity and flavor. Then, cut the stems fresh and place the herbs in a small glass of water. Cover the herbs with a loose plastic bag and set on the warmest shelf possible in your fridge.
Alternatively, you can wrap fresh herbs in a ziploc bag with a damp paper towel. Make sure the bag has a bit of air inside, and place it in the warmest part of your fridge (usually located in the door). When you’re ready to use your herbs, cut away any wilted or discolored leaves. Fresh herbs don’t have a long shelf life so use them as soon as possible.

How to wash fresh herbs

Water will quicken their demise, so if your herbs are fresh picked, you can skip this step. Only wash your herbs if you’re going to use them immediately, otherwise store them unwashed.
Fill a bowl with cold water and place your herbs inside. Gently agitate to remove any dirt. If there is a significant amount of sediment at the bottom of the bowl, dump your water and give the herbs another rinse. Gently pat them dry using a paper towel or give them a whirl in a salad spinner.

Basil - herbs at We Grow

Purple Petra Basil grown at We Grow LLC in August 2016. Basil comes in a wide range of varieties and flavors.

How to chop fresh herbs

A really sharp knife is a worthwhile investment and makes preparing food a more enjoyable experience. A dull blade will bruise your herbs, changing the color of your leaves from a vibrant green to a dull black. Specialty herb scissors can also be handy for this task.

To maximize the flavor of your herbs you’ll want them finely chopped. The finer you chop your herbs, the more oils released and the more fragrant the herb will be. Delicate herbs like parsley and cilantro should be chopped right before use as they will lose their aroma quickly. Add these more delicate herbs after you’ve taken your dish off the heat or right before serving for max flavor.
When to add fresh herbs

This depends not only on the herb, but also on the sort of flavor you’re trying to achieve. Robust herbs like rosemary, thyme and savory can be used in longer simmering dishes. Gently bruise the leaves with your fingers before dropping them in to release more oils and increase flavor.

Adding herbs at the beginning of your cooking will create a subtle background note. If at the end you find you want to punch up the flavor, just add a bit more for reinforcement. Remember, you don’t want any one flavor to stand out too much.

If you keep the leaves on their stem they will be easier to remove later. Using an herb sachet, also known as a bouquet garni, is another option that will keep you from losing your herbs in a sauce or broth. This also allows you to control the flavor if you find the herbs are becoming overpowering.

Basil

Flavor: Licorice and cloves
Cooking tip: Add at the end of cooking to maximize flavor
Pair with: Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, oregano, pasta, onions, chicken, eggs, pizza, green leaf salads, bell peppers, zucchini, apricots, berries, figs, peaches, plums

Chives

Flavor: Light oniony taste
Cooking tip: Use raw, or at the end of cooking. Add chive flowers to a salad or use chive stems to tie vegetables together
Pair with: Eggs, potatoes, sauces, stews and soups, salads, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream, vegetables, stir-frys, breads

Cilantro - herbs at We Grow

Cilantro grown at We Grow LLC in 2015. Cilantro quickly goes to seed and must be planted in succession every two weeks for a continuous supply.

Cilantro

Flavor: Bright and citrusy; some claim it tastes soapy
Cooking tip: Can be used at beginning or end of cooking
Pair with: Spicy dishes, salsas, chiles, curries, salads, soups, chicken, fish, vinaigrette, apples, bananas, mangoes, pears, summer melons

Dill

Flavor: Combination of celery, fennel and parsley
Cooking tip: Fresh packs greater flavor than dry. Add at beginning or end of cooking
Pair with: Fish, beans, hard boiled eggs, beets, soups, sour cream, cream cheese, dressings, yogurt, chicken, potato salad, meats

Mint

Flavor: Sweet, fresh, slightly astringent
Cooking tip: Peppermint has a stronger flavor over spearmint. Could be added at beginning or end of cooking
Pair with: Lamb, chocolate, pork chops, jellies, sauces, cocktails, berries, figs and dates. oranges and limes, summer melons, cherries, apricots, plums, apples, pears

Oregano

Flavor: Hint of sweetness with some spiciness
Cooking tip: Strong, robust flavor especially if dried. Mediterranean oregano is milder than Mexican. Add at beginning of cooking; if adding in an herb bag, do not strip leaves from stems
Pair with: Pizza, tomatoes, pastas, eggs, cheeses, eggplant, meats, dressings, oil and butter, pesto

Parsley

Flavor: Flat parsley has a peppery bite and curly parsley is relatively bland
Cooking tip: Flat parsley holds up better in longer cooking, curly looks great as a garnish. Stems have the strongest concentration of flavors and can be added diced finely or in a bouquet garni
Pair with: Fish, vegetables, salad, rice, soups, stews, meatballs, pesto, sauces, marinades, bananas, coconuts, grapefruits, mangoes, pineapples, summer melons

Rosemary

Flavor: Pine-like, astringent
Cooking tip: Add whole stems at beginning and remove before serving; great for the grill. Leaves can fall off so might want to use in bouquet garni. If chopping, dice very finely as it can be quite tough
Pair with: Lamb, potatoes, marinades and oils, eggs, fish, poultry, pork, tomatoes, onions, ice cream, oranges, apricots

Sage

Flavor: Slightly peppery with touch of mint
Cooking tip: Robust flavor best with heavy foods. Add at the beginning of cooking
Pair with: Meats, sausage, cheese and cream based items, sweet and savory breads, stuffings, beans, potatoes, risottos, tomato sauce

Dill - herbs at We Grow

Dill flowers turn into the familiar dill seed at We Grow LLC in July 2016

Savory

Flavor: Peppery flavor, winter savoury is more pungent than summer
Cooking tip: Can be added at beginning or end or cooking
Pair with: Beans, meat, poultry, grilled veggies, wild game

Thyme

Flavor: Sweet, mildly pungent
Cooking tip: Great paired when cooked with parsley and bay. Can be added at beginning. If using stems prepare for stronger flavor but remove before serving
Pair with: Broths, soups and stews, flatbreads, meat, poultry, potatoes, stuffings, marinades, cherries, figs, grapes, honeydew melon, peaches, pears

Article adapted from Urban Cultivator http://www.urbancultivator.net/

Fresh Vegetable Storage

General storage tips: Select mature, unblemished fruits and vegetables for storage, and handle them carefully. Check the condition of stored produce periodically and remove anything that appears to have spoiled. Do not store apples, which release ethylene gas, with other vegetables. Produce in storage should not be allowed to freeze.

Vegetable or Fruit
Temp (F) Rel Humidity Storage Life
Apples 32-35 90% 2-6 months
Beets 32 95% 1-3 months
Brussel Sprouts 32 90-95% 3-5 weeks
Cabbage 32 90-95% 4-6 months
Carrots 32 95-100% 2-6 months
Cauliflower 32 90-95% 2-4 weeks
Celeriac 32 90-95% 3-4 months
Celery 32 90-95% 2-3 months
Chinese Cabbage 32 90-95% 1-2 months
Dry beans 40-50 40% 1 year or more
Garlic* 50-60 65-70% 6-8 months
Kale 32 90-95% 10-14 days
Kohlrabi 32 90-95% 2-4 weeks
Leeks 32 90-95% 1-3 months
Onions* 32 65-70% 5-8 months
Parsnips 32 90-95% 2-6 months
Peppers, sweet or hot 45-50 90-95% 8-10 days
Potatoes 38-40 90% 5-8 months
Pumpkins* 50-55 70-75% 2-3 months
Rutabaga 32-35 90-95% 2-4 months
Sweet Potato 55-60 85-90% 4-6 months
Tomatoes 55-60 85-90% 2-6 weeks
Turnips 32 90-95% 4-5 months
Winter Radishes 32 90-95% 2-4 months
Winter Squash* 50-55 70-75% 3-6 months

*Before storing, cure garlic, onions, pumpkins, and winter squash in a dry, warm spot (about 80 degrees F) for two weeks.

FACT SHEET: Optimal Storage Conditions for Common Farm Fresh Vegetables

Adapted from HC Harrison which is published by UW Extension

Eating In Season, Eating Local Means Fresh

When you connect with the place your food comes from, you realize what it means to EAT IN SEASON. Not only do you have to get creative, but you indulge in the finer foods as the ripen and have an actual appreciation for what you eat. Very few of us actually eat entirely in-season, but it is worth doing what you can do. This article by Rochelle Bilow has a good summary of one’s experience working, living and eating in season on the farm.

I especially relate to a statement the author makes about deciding what to cook based on your available ingredients instead of paging through a cookbook.

“If you’re going to truly cook with the seasons, that means giving up some ingredients for part of the year. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat austerely: Surrendering to the garden’s harvest and dedicating yourself to using all of it will force you to become creative and might even put a new favorite dish on  your roster.”

– Rochelle Bilow, read the full article at BonAppentit.com

As more and more people realize the value in eating in season, we need to realize that what some call a modern movement is actually as old as agriculture. Whether we go bask to the early hunters-gatherers or simply look back at those hearty homesteaders who settled the American Midwest, you ate what was grown in your garden or your neighbor’s when it was fresh and when it was in season because there was little else to be had. It was a diet of necessity. In many parts of the world, people still go about deciding what they’ll have for dinner in a similar manner.

At our farm table, those first cucumbers taste SO good. Then we eat them for six straight weeks and we’re ready for a break. Sure, we could buy cukes at the grocery store all winter long, but they don’t really don’t taste as good as those fresh from the garden, they cost a lot, who knows how many chemicals were used to grow that perfect cuke in intensive agriculture environment, and not too mention the fossil fuels it took to bring that cuke 2,000 miles across the country. We can say the same about strawberry, lettuce, and much more.

The organic, local eating trend is gaining a serious following in upscale restaurants. Chefs are shopping at farmer’s markets on a daily basis for local, fresh ingredients and charging more than if the ingredients had been pulled out of a frozen cardboard box from their distributor. Food that is grown nearby tastes better because it is fresher. All chefs know fresh ingredients are key to good tasting food. It’s also healthier for you because nutrients are at their maximum when the source is nearby. And oftentimes these characteristics come with a premium price. But that’s what people are interested in right now and consumers are willing to pay for all the right reasons.