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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Using Herbs in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101

A recent comment regarding drying oregano prompted this week's Frugal Kitchens 101 post.  Herbs can be used fresh, dried, frozen or teas.  They are a wonderful way to add a lot of flavour to foods without adding salt.  Although some dishes may still require a little salt when using herbs, the amount of salt added can be greatly reduced.  Herbs can be used to add high and low notes to a dish.  For example when cooking lemon chicken adding lemon balm tea with add a bit of higher lemon note.  Adding lemon balm to chicken stock gives a lemon note to the rice cooked in the stock.  Both oils and vinegars can be infused with herbs to add flavour to the base notes of vinaigrettes, sauces, and dressings.  Herbs can be the main ingredient in a dish (eg. basil pesto) or they can serve as the garnish on plate (eg. parsley).  Aside of the flavour and visual appeal of herbs, many fresh herbs are beneficial in terms of health.  Parsley helps to freshen your breath while mints help setting the tummy after a heavy meal.  On that note of the versatility of culinary herbs in the kitchen how does one go about cooking more with herbs?

  • Chances are very good if you are like most home cooks you will have a few bottles of dry herbs floating around.  They likely are stored in a open rack by the stove, lined up on the back of the stove or in a cabinet over/by the stove.  There is a very good chance these herbs are well over a year old.  Throw these herbs out!  Why?  Both heat and light destroy the essential oils in herbs so you aren't getting flavour, you are getting filler.  If you are serious about learning to cook with herbs, empty those bottles, clean them then refill with quality herbs.  Do not replace with the little bottles of herbs in the grocery stores that you have no way of knowing how old they are and have been exposed to light.  Buy dried herbs from a bulk food store where you can buy the amount you need or dry home grown herbs.  Buy herb plants from a nursery or start from seed.  Some fresh herbs can be bought in the produce section of the grocery store.
  • The basic herbs I recommend starting with are parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and marjoram.  These herbs can be used by themselves or in combination to form herb blends (eg. Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning).  All of these herbs grow nicely on sunny window sills.   If growing herbs indoors I also recommend adding chives and members of the mint family (eg. spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm) to your collection.  These herbs are extremely easy to grow.  Until you get used to growing indoor herbs stick with the basic varieties as many like basil are available in several varieties but the basic culinary variety used is sweet basil.
  • I prefer using fresh to dried herbs and for some dishes like pesto fresh basil is needed.  Essential oils in dried herbs are more concentrated so to substitute dried herbs for fresh, less is needed.  The conversion for substituting is 1 tbsp fresh herb = 1 tsp dried herb.
  • Start small.  Learning to cook with herbs is quite easy but my recommendation is to keep it simple and easy.  Start with something simple like a homemade vegetable dip using either fresh or dried herb(s).  Use half the herb(s) the recipe calls for.  Taste.  If the dip has a strong enough flavour for you then leave as is and note the change beside the recipe ingredient list.  If the dip is not flavourful enough add a little more until you get the flavour you want.  Remember it is always easy to add more herbs but you can't take out excess so always add less.
  • Herbs should not overpower the dish.  Certain herbs pair with certain meats or fish better than others.  For example, rosemary pairs nicely with salmon and beef but is a bit overpowering for whitefish.  Use a lighter herb such as lemon thyme with whitefish.  Parsley goes with just about everything to the point is over used as a garnish.  Cooking method can affect the flavour of the herb as well.  In particular sage tends to get stronger and bitter when added to anything to be canned.  Cooking times can affect flavour as well so tender herbs (eg. parsley, basil) should be added during the last few minutes of cooking to retain best flavour and colour.  Do a bit of reading on the herbs you want to use.
  • Have fun!  Cooking is all about having fun in the kitchen.  Using herbs is just one more way to extend the repetoir of meals you can make.  Simply adding a sprinkling of fresh chives to a baked potato or chopped parsley on roasted potatoes can make them feel special even though all you really did was add herbs. 

2 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

Thanks for this! :) Now I need to get up the courage to give them a try. ;)

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Linda :) Just start small and simple then once you get comfortable expand a bit. You'll be an herb pro before you know it!