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Uses for Fresh Herbs

By Kim Robson:

At our home, we love to grow our own veggies whenever possible. Fresh herbs top the list for culinary and medicinal uses. Every spring, I start a container garden for the season. Invariably, I pick up a variety of herbs to grow. I usually get mint, basil, oregano, Italian parsley, and lemon thyme. That’s in addition to our enormous rosemary bush that survived the Cedar Fire.

This time of year, though, everything wants to flower and go to seed. You can pinch off the flowers to stop this process and focus the plant’s energy into growing the leaves we want. The flowers are edible and make lovely garnishes on salads, so pinch away!

But the end of summer is nearing fast, and I want to use up all my remaining fresh herbs while there’s still time. Here are some of my favorite tricks for using and storing fresh herbs:

  • With a store-bought pizza crust, I can make the most brilliant homemade pizzas. In the summer, instead of using bagged spinach, I top them with chopped fresh herbs. (I also add roasted eggplant, chili peppers, and fresh tomatoes from my garden.)
  • Add them to your regular salads. A 100% herb salad may be too much for some people, so adjust accordingly. I like about a 50/50 ratio with salad mix.
  • Got lots of parsley? Make tabbouleh, a refreshing and nutritious Middle-Eastern dish with bulghur wheat, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil.
  • Substitute fresh herbs for lettuce on sandwiches. Trust me: they add crunch, vitamins and a deliciously unexpected flavor element to any deli sandwich or wrap.
  • Got lots of basil? Make pesto. And you can mix up the herbs in pesto, too. Last year, I made a five-herb pesto with basil, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme. It’s amazing – I’m still hoarding some. Herbs other than basil in pesto also help maintain a more vibrant green color. Pesto is also great for those homemade pizzas.
  • Make compound butter. Let a stick of butter soften to room temp, then mix in several tablespoons of chopped herbs and a teaspoon of good salt. Slap the mixture onto a sheet of parchment, roll it up into a tube, twist the ends, and chill in the fridge or freezer. Slice into rounds and serve on top of veggies, fish, meat or toast.
  • Make infused oil. My mom has always made her own delicious salad dressing with extra-virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, good salt and massive amounts of fresh herbs. It’s also perfect for dipping crusty bread into or for drizzling over roasted veggies, meats, or bruschetta.
  • Add to tomato sauce. Another end-of-summer problem is what to do with all those tomatoes. Fresh herbs and good salt will give it the savory kick it deserves. I also add fresh herbs to my famous salsa recipe. They really give it a unique flavor.
  • Add to plain yogurt for a cool summer salad dressing or dip. Dill, basil, mint, and parsley are all great.
  • Infuse preserved fruits. When I can fresh fruit preserves, I almost always add a sprig of some fresh herb to the mixture during the cooking process, then remove it whole before canning. The preserves will be infused with the subtle scent and flavor of the herb. This summer I made homegrown nectarine preserves with mint, and plum preserves with rosemary.
  • Got way too much zucchini? Make fritters, and add a handful of those fresh herbs to really maximize your summer bounty. Serve with your yogurt-herb dipping sauce.
  • Make cocktails! Every summer, I see the most beautiful and delicious-looking cocktails in Bon Appetit using fresh herbs and even flowers for muddling or garnishes. Think mojitos with mint and lime, or basil-infused watermelon punch, or cucumber-gin spritzers with aloe vera juice. For inspiration, check out these 20 summer cocktails with fresh herbs.
  • You also can freeze fresh herbs, or dry them by hanging them upside-down in a cool, dark spot or using a low oven.

Do you have any other tricks for using and storing fresh herbs? Share them in the comments below!

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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