Whether they come from the grocery store, green market, or your own backyard, it’s high time to bring fresh herbs into your kitchen. As a natural foods chef and wellness consultant, fresh herbs are my secret weapons for great tasting, nutritious food. Herbs are loaded with disease preventing vitamins and antioxidants; they also flavor food without adding extra salt, sugar, and fat. And don’t worry if your cooking skills are limited—using herbs couldn’t be easier! Read on for a few tips and tricks, and if you want even more instruction, join me at a Cooking with Fresh Herbs class I will be teaching at Whole Foods (Halsted and Waveland) on July 29. Call to reserve a spot!
With so many types and varieties of herbs available, it can certainly be overwhelming! I find it important to break herbs into two categories: hard and soft. Hard herbs usually have woody stems and strong flavor: rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage are all common examples. These herbs are commonly added early into cooking and can hold up well to long, slow techniques (braising, roasting, stewing, etc). Use hard herbs sparingly, as excessive amounts can easily overpower foods. Soft herbs, on the other hand, can be used generously without worry. Parsley, cilantro, basil, chives, dill, and tarragon are all common examples. They are more delicate and are usually added at the end of cooking or right before serving. I love blending them in the food processor with olive oil for a quick sauce or tossing them with lettuces for a fresh spin on salad.
Once you are ready to start cooking, wash herbs just before use. I like to swish them around in a bowl of water to loosen any dirt or sand, shake them dry, and then lay them on a clean kitchen towel. You can also use a salad spinner if you have one on hand. If a recipe calls for chopped herbs and you aren’t so sure of your knife skills, use a food processor. Just make sure they are nice and dry before doing so. Pulse for a rougher chop, and process longer for minced herbs. If you bought more herbs than you are using, store them in a plastic bag with a folded up paper towel to absorb moisture. They should usually keep well for 4-7 days.
In order to understand each herbs unique flavor and how they can best pair with certain foods, it is important to have a small taste of any herb you may not be familiar with. It is a great way to discover new tastes and broaden your culinary scope. Be adventurous!
Amanda Skrip is a natural foods chef and wellness consultant in Chicago. If you are interested in achieving optimal health, visitwww.amandaskrip.com, for recipes, upcoming classes, and current promotions.
Balsamic Chopped Vegetable Salad with Feta + Basil
This recipe is a great way to make use of seasonal summer vegetables. The veggies are roasted with rosemary and thyme, and the salad is finished with basil. I imagine it would also be delicious with parlsey or mint.
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 fennel bulb, halved, cored, and sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, slived
2-3 zucchini, cut into rounds
2-3 yellow squash, cut into rounds
3-4 whole garlic cloves, smashed
2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
2-3 fresh rosemary springs
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup baby spinach or arugula leaves
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/3 cup sheep’s milk feta
Preheat oven to 375 and line 2 large baking sheet with parchment.
In a large bowl, toss all vegetables, garlic, and herbs with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in an even layer on he baking sheets being careful not to overlap. Roast for 25-35 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
Once the roasted vegetables are cool enough to handle, give them a rough chop and place them in a large bowl. Add balsamic vinegar, spinach/arugula, basil and feta, and stir to incorporate.