As the “foodie movement” continues to gain in popularity, more and more folks are experimenting with adventurous cuisine and interesting flavors. Herbs are a great way to add zest to your home cooking, in terms of both taste and color. What’s more, many common culinary herbs provide a rich source of Vitamins A and K, as well as valuable antioxidants. Here’s how to make sure they will be at their savory best.
1. The freshest herbs come from your own garden. Interestingly enough, many herbs thrive in less fertile soil and are the perfect planting for a rocky area of your yard. In soil with higher fertility, the plants will tend to produce more leaves that have a less intense flavor. For this reason, you do not need to fertilize. Obviously, you should also avoid dangerous pesticides on any plant which you intend for human consumption.
2. To make it even easier to incorporate fresh herbs into your gourmet preparations, grow them right in your kitchen. Aromatic plants love sunshine and mild temperatures (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit). If you live in an area with extremely cold winters such as upstate New York, you could probably lower your heat while you are out at work as per the advice of your Buffalo HVAC expert. In this case, you may wish to protect your sensitive plants with a heat lamp or heat mat.
3. If you prefer to buy your herbs, the ideal source is a farmers’ market or farm stand. Make sure that they are as fresh as possible. Look for perky, deeply colored leaves with no yellowish or slimy spots.
4. Keep cut herbs in your refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel. Or stand them in a jar of water, like a bouquet of flowers, making sure to change the water if the herbs are not used up within a few days. Do not wash them until just before use.
5. For longer term storage, freeze herbs. Rinse and dry them well first. They may be frozen as whole stalks, but many people like to make ice cubes of small quantities of minced herbs. These can be conveniently added to a soup or stew, with no last minute prep.
6. Drying is another possibility. Hang bunches of low moisture herbs like oregano upside down to air dry. For herbs with higher levels of moisture such as mint, dry in a dehydrator, a dehumidifier or your oven. Dried herbs will have a more concentrated flavor, so use only one third the amount of fresh. For example, in a recipe that calls for 3 teaspoons of fresh dill, you’ll need only 1 teaspoon of dried. Crumble the leaves before adding to your dish to release the essence and ensure that it is evenly distributed.
7. There are certain steps you can take to prolong the shelf life of dried herbs, whether purchased or home grown. Store in tightly closed containers away from the stove, as the heat can be damaging. Also guard against any source of moisture, such as steam or a damp measuring spoon.
8. Although with proper storage, dried herbs can last a year or more, check regularly to make sure they still have their oomph. A simple sniff test will do the trick. Replace as necessary so that your cooking will continue to pop.