Sometimes we take herbs for granted, but we can’t deny that they are flavor boosters. Adding a pinch of sage to roasted butternut squash, mint to your favorite cocktail or classic French blends like “fine herbs” or “herbs de Provence” will make dishes sing.
What exactly is an herb?
Herbs are plant leaves used in cooking. They can be fresh or dried. Other parts of the plant, which are usually dried, are referred to as spices. Some examples include bark (like cinnamon), berries (like peppercorns), seeds (like cumin), roots (like ginger), flowers (like chamomile), buds (like cloves) and the stigma of a flower (like saffron).
Herbs are a great way to add color and flavor to a dish without adding tons of fat, salt or sugar. They are also healthy to eat, so they tick all the boxes. Flavor? Check. Visual appeal? Check. Healthy? Check.
How to use herbs
Fresh herbs are usually delicate in flavor. It’s important to mention that dried herbs are three times stronger in flavor than fresh herbs because they are concentrated. I almost always add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking so they permeate the dish and awaken from their dry stage. Keep in mind most dried herbs that sit longer than a year have lost the essential oils that impart flavor.
So, which herbs are best to add at the beginning of cooking and which ones should you add at the end? A simple rule of thumb is the heartier the herb, the earlier it can be added in the cooking process, with a few exceptions. Herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary are great to add at the beginning of cooking a dish because they can take the heat. You can also add them toward the end as well since they mirror the flavor achieved in the first few minutes of cooking. Softer herbs like parsley, tarragon, dill, cilantro, chives and chervil are best when they are fresh and should be added toward the end of cooking.
A good way to preserve herbs is to buy them fresh and then dry them if you haven’t used them up by the end of the week. I like to use a dehydrator, but if you don’t have one, you can simply tie the ends of the herb with string and hang it near an open window so the breeze dries it out. This may take longer, but it’s an easy way to make your own dried herbs.
The best way to store fresh herbs is bundling them in a paper towel then placing them into a plastic bag.
Classic herb mixes
Try your hand at making these special herb blends. They allow you to perk up your dishes and travel the world with herbs from across the globe!
- Fine Herbs: parsley, chive, tarragon, chervil
- This versatile herb blend is perfect to wake up a stew that has been cooking for hours, or you can simply whisk it into a vinaigrette.
- Herbs de Provence: rosemary, fennel seed, savory, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender, parsley, tarragon
- Herbs de Provence originates from the Provence region of France. It is great with lamb, pork, chicken and ratatouille, or even chopped into tomato salad. You can mix and match the herbs, but lavender is the key to this one.
- Italian Herb Seasoning: oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, red pepper flakes
- This one is great for that ragout you love cooking on Sundays. Add a little bit at the beginning of the cooking process and a little at the end to reinforce the flavor.
- Blackening Spice: oregano, thyme, paprika, garlic, black and white pepper, cayenne
- Sprinkle this on some trout or salmon then sear in a hot pan to get that classic spicy, smoky Cajun and Creole flavor.
- Jerk Seasoning: thyme, scallion, allspice, Scotch bonnet, garlic, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper
- Jerk is great on pork chops, chicken or shrimp. Farm2ChefsTable recommends letting this spicy mixture rest for a week before use to allow the full potential of the flavors to marry together.
- Poultry Seasoning: rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, garlic
- This classic mixture is great for Turkey Day. You can also rub it on some pork or winter squash and veggies before roasting.
- Adobo: garlic, oregano, black pepper
- This is an all-purpose Latin seasoning that comes in handy for so many dishes.
- Chili Powder: dried chili, oregano, cumin, coriander, cayenne
- Za’atar: dried za’atar (thyme or savory are also suitable), sumac, sesame seeds
- A spice blend commonly used in Lebanon and Jordan. I love pairing za’atar with lamb! But it is great on a lot of different veggies and meats.
- Dukkah: thyme, sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, nuts (often hazelnuts), mint (optional)
- This Egyptian blend is best for roasted meat and veggies.
- Togarashi: shiso (Japanese mint), chiles, Sansho pepper, dried citrus peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, ginger, garlic, nori
- Japan nailed it with this herb and spice mixture. It covers the flavor spectrum with a spiciness that is balanced out by shiso and comes full circle with the umami of nori. This is really great on sashimi or fish.
- Khmeli Suneli: fenugreek leaves and seeds, coriander, savory, black pepper, dill, bay leaves, mint, dried marigold petals
- Georgia is known for blending these herbs and spices together. It is great in stews and meat dishes.