Cooking with herbs can be slightly confusing because of all of the varieties that are available to both chefs and cooks alike. You can grow herbs in a home garden or even on your kitchen window in small flower pots.
Below are 7 commonly used herbs, with 3 featured recipes per herb. There are a range of dishes, both common and unexpected (check out the special herb desserts).
There are many other herbs that haven't been featured here, such as oregano, tarragon and coriander. For more about herbs, check out this article on How To Cook With Herbs . Can you think of any other herbs that you cook with? Let us know in the comments below.
Basil, Thai basil and sweet basil are all different varieties of the popular herb. In English speaking countries, it is also sometimes referred to as Saint Joseph's Wart.
Basil is commonly used in Italian and Asian cooking. Interestingly, basil is a member of the mint family and while they have different flavor profiles, the are both quite aromatic. The scent differs according to the variety of basil, they range from hints of anise, lemon and even cinnamon. Basil can be used both fresh and dried based on the recipe.
Basil can also add a lovely aromatic flavor to creamy dairy products. It can be combined with soft cheeses, such as chèvre, or even mixed into ice cream and chocolates.
The next herb on the menu is...
Dill is an interesting herb because it is used for both its seeds and its leaves and all parts of the herb are used for culinary purposes.
Although dill originally grew wild in Southern Europe through Western Asia, it is now cultivated many places in the world, including in many home gardens. The leaves of the dill plant have a distinctive flavor similar to parsley and fennel, while the seeds have a bitter flavor similar to green leaf or caraway. Remember, when cooking with dill, the dried form of the herb’s leaves has less of a vibrant flavor then the fresh leaves.
Dill is often used as a spice in pickling. Dill is also used in many sour dishes, especially in variations of sauerkraut. In Ashkenazi cooking it is often one of the herbs used in chicken soup.
Tip: Dill is a very delicate herb, and because of this, the fresh herb usually added to hot recipes just prior to removing it from the heat source.
Mint is great in many different types of dishes, including with lemonade. The leaves have a sweet, warm, aromatic flavor that can be used for many different dishes including, candies, ice cream and jellies. There are 25-species and over 500 named varieties of mint. The most common mint varieties used for cooking are spearmint and peppermint.
Mint brings alive any dish, including lamb, couscous salad and potatoes, but it has a strong flavor so be careful of how much you use. A fun way to use mint is to add a refreshing touch to a glass of iced tea or lemonade by rubbing the leaves around the rim of the glass.
The best way to prepare fresh mint for a recipe, you should rinse the leaves well and remove any spotted or bug-eaten leaves. You should keep the fresh-cut stems in water until you are ready to use them in your recipe and then remove the leaves from the stem. You can also keep leaves in a slightly dampened paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge. If you are chopping the leaves or tearing them wait until just before using them, especially for a garnish, because the leaves with darken and loose flavor.
Keep fresh mint in a glass or vase in the kitchen and you'll have fresh mint leaves whenever you need them. They last about a week or so this way especially if you change the water every few days.
Let's learn about...
Rosemary is one of the oldest recorded herbs in history, references have even been found on stone tablets. Rosemary is primarily thought of as a kitchen herb and is often found featured in lamb and chicken dishes as well as with baked potatoes. It can also be used in a refreshing summer drink.
There are two basic types of rosemary, there are the "upright" varieties, which are usually grown 18-24 inches high. The second basic type is the creeping rosemary which tends to grow close to the ground. Both varieties are great for cooking!! There are about two dozen different varieties of upright and creeping rosemary sold in markets today.
Tip: Beyond cooking, rosemary can also be used in potpourri, as a moth repellent or in aromatherapy.
Although used since ancient times for medicinal and food preservation purposes, it was only as recent as the 17th century that sage began to be used for cooking. Today, in Britain, sage has been listed as an essential herb along with parsley, rosemary and thyme. Sage has a savory, slightly peppery flavor and can works well with both dairy and meat dishes. It is also delicious in cornbread.
Sage is a member of the mint family. Like traditional mint, culinary sage is highly aromatic and is best used fresh. Sage's flavor has been described as a mix of rosemary, pine and mint, or citrusy; when dried, it has a more camphorous flavor.
In many places, it can be used fresh from the garden year round. If you would like to dry your sage, hang the sprigs from their stems or place the leave on a screen in a warm, dry place. The stems and leaves can also be tossed on a hot charcoal barbecue, if you are looking to add a wonderful aroma to your grilled dishes.
It is time for...
Thyme has both culinary and medicinal uses. In terms of cooking, it is usually the vital ingredient in the spice mixture, za'atar. The word za'atar actually means thyme in Arabic. Thyme is sold both fresh and dried, and although fresh has a stronger flavor. Dried is much more convenient because of the time it takes to separate the leaves from the stem. Usually only the leaves are used while the stems are discarded.
It is perfectly fine to substitute dried thyme for fresh. The dried version comes both with whole leaves as well as ground. If using fresh, the leaves can removed from by scraping the stem with the back of a knife or pulling off the leaves using your fingers or a fork.
Tip: Compared to other herbs, thyme retains its flavour when dried better than many other herbs so don't hesitate to use the dried variety.
Last, but not least...
Parsley is probably the most versatile herb, but you probably won't be finding it used in a dessert any time soon. That's a challenge for you - to find a dessert made from parsley. If you think of one, put it in the comments below.
Curly parsley is usually used as a garnish, while root parsley is more common in Central and Eastern European cuisines. All types of parsley are full of healthy properties, including antioxidants, vitamin C and A and folic acid. In terms of cooking with parsley, you should wash it properly right before use because of it's fragile leaves. Italian flat leaf parsley has a stronger flavor then the curly variety so it holds up to cooking better and is used often in hot dishes.
Tip: If you are using parsley in a light colored sauce, such as a white wine sauce, it is best to use the stems from the flat leafed variety so that the sauce will take on the parsley flavor but not the color.