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Guide to Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Learn how to prep, store and cook with some of the most common fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, rosemary, sage and more.

Cooking with herbs is an easy way to infuse a recipe with flavor. Not sure where to start? Use this infographic as a quick reference for how to prep and store fresh herbs, plus ideas for how to cook with them. Try stirring a handful of basil and some marjoram into your favorite tomato sauce or rubbing a chicken with a mixture of thyme and rosemary before you roast it. Add your favorite chopped herbs to homemade vinaigrette or creamy ranch dip. Herbs like cilantro and mint are excellent tossed in an Asian-inspired salad. Some herbs may be more familiar to you than others. Experiment with a few at a time until you find ones that you like.

Basil
No other herb epitomizes the taste of summer like basil. This tender annual is available in a number of varieties—opal basil with attractive maroon leaves, Thai basil with its undertones of anise, and the classic sweet Genovese basil that is the backbone to every delicious pesto, are just a few options to consider.

Culinary Uses: If you have a lot of basil on hand, make your own pesto! You can freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and use the blocks to enhance soup or serve over pasta when summer is long gone. Tender basil is at its best when it’s fresh, and complements nearly everything from meat to fish. Use it to garnish salads and pizzas fresh out of the oven.

Prep: Basil can bruise easily. It’s best to tear or very roughly chop the leaves. The delicate stems at the top of the plant are good to chop and use in soups. The larger stems of the plant (toward the root end) are woody and less flavorful.

Storage: The best way to store basil is with the root ends in a small cup of water with a plastic bag draped loosely over it on your kitchen counter (NOT in the refrigerator—the cold will cause it to wilt). It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze basil, blanch the leaves first, then dry them before they hit the freezer. This will prevent them from turning black. To dry basil, use a dehydrator or spread out the basil leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Cilantro

The pungent flavor and aroma of cilantro is popular in many cuisines, including Mexican and Vietnamese. The entire plant is edible: the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander, the stems are as flavorful as the leaves and some Asian recipes even call for the roots.

Culinary Uses: Cilantro likes to make a statement. We like it paired with mild ingredients like chicken, fish and tofu where its bright, grassy flavor shines through. (But, really, cilantro can go with just about everything.) It’s wonderful in soups, salsas and curries. Heat can temper fresh cilantro’s flavor, so add it to a dish right before serving.

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems are just as flavorful as the leaves, they’re just not as delicate. Use the stems for building flavor—you can chop and cook them along with other aromatics, or they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock and soup.

Storage: Store cilantro in a jar in your refrigerator, with the stems in water and a bag over the leaves. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze cilantro, blanch the leaves and stems first (this helps preserve their color and flavor), then dry them before they hit the freezer. Or, you can pulse the leaves and stems in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. To dry cilantro, use a dehydrator or spread out the cilantro leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Dill

Pungent dill, a relative of parsley, has a reach that spans from Greece to northern Europe. It’s the key flavor for dill pickles here in the United States, but it also plays a prominent role in other dishes around the world, from grape leaves to borscht.

Culinary Uses: Dill can be used as a garnish or to enhance the flavor of a dish through infusion (like pickling). It pairs well with fish, poultry, eggs and smoked meats. It can be combined with other herbs such as parsley or mint or enjoyed on its own in soups, stews and sauces. Because it has a somewhat strong flavor, a light hand with fresh dill at the end of cooking is best.

Prep: Its feather-like leaves are tender and can be chopped or torn to be used as garnish. The tender parts of the stems can be chopped and used in cooking or for infusing its unique flavor.

Storage: Store dill wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry dill, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Marjoram

Similar to oregano, marjoram is popular in many Mediterranean cuisines. Its intensely floral flavor goes particularly well with meats and vegetables.

Culinary Uses: Marjoram is milder than oregano and because of that, it’s more versatile. We love it paired with mild ingredients like chicken, fish and tofu as well as darker meats like beef and lamb. It’s wonderful in soups, salad dressings, pasta sauces and as a garnish for veggies. Heat can temper the flavor, so add it to a dish right before serving.

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems can be woody, but you don’t have to throw them away. Use the stems for building flavor—they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock and soup.

Storage: Store marjoram wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, pulse the leaves in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays with a little bit of olive oil. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry marjoram, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Oregano

A member of the mint family, oregano is related to both marjoram and thyme. Mediterranean oregano has a milder flavor than its Mexican counterpart. Use it to season spaghetti and pizza sauces, or add a pinch to your favorite chili recipe for another flavor dimension.

Culinary Uses: Oregano has a strong, woodsy flavor that pairs best with dark and gamy meats. Its flavor holds up well to heat, so you can add it in with your aromatics while you’re cooking to build flavor. It’s wonderful in soups, pasta sauces and pizza sauces. Using fresh oregano as a garnish may overwhelm a dish, so go easy on it if you choose to use it this way.

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems can be woody, but you don’t have to throw them away. Use the stems for building flavor—they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock, soup or pasta sauce.

Storage: Store oregano wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, pulse the leaves in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays with a little bit of olive oil. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

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