A few years ago, I was running a catering/meal delivery company and had opened a cafe/production kitchen/deli that was as much work as there are slashes in this sentence! For all of the work, I wasn't taking home much income so we had a tight household budget. One summer when it was worse than normal we really scaled back. I thought: I control food cost for a living, I can feed us on the cheap!
It was summer and I was craving tomatoes with fresh basil. Basil doesn't last long and isn't really ever inexpensive for the sustenance you get out on the plate. I only needed a leaf or two and couldn't justify the $1.89 for the entire bunch (yea, I was that broke). I picked up a bunch and shook it gently... a few leaves floated to the ground. Is that trash now; is it stealing if I put this in my bag? I considered it for awhile but didn't take any. I went home with my tomatoes and ate them with salt and olive oil and side of regret. Had I thought it through, I could have preserved that one bunch of basil to use all summer long!
Contemplating theft in the produce aisle isn't really my point - justifying the cost and flavor of fresh herbs is plan today.
How often do you buy fresh herbs but end up throwing away the majority of the bunch because you can't use it up fast enough?
There's no need to toss out herbs! Let's go through 4 super simple ways to save any herb before it turn to slime. We'll talk about proper storage when you bring them home from the market.
Woody: Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Marjoram, Sage
Woody herbs keep reasonably long, a month or more isn't unheard of if you care for them properly. These are identified by having an inedible center stem which is removed before using.
When you take woody herbs home from the market:
HERB SALT: Trick #1
Arguably the easiest method.
Spread woody herbs out on a baking sheet (that's what's happening in the thyme photo above). Leave uncovered, in a dry space for about a week. OR, place in 200 degree oven for about an hour until the leaves are crisp and dry. Rub leaves gently to remove center stems.
Combine ANY COMBINATION of dry herbs and kosher salt. Try 1 tablespoon of herbs to 1/2 cup salt. Store in a dry place for a year.
INFUSED: Trick #2
Never mind, this is easier.
Put olive oil in a jar. Add woody herbs. Seal jar. Ready to use in 3-4 days. Store for about 3 months.
You can do this with leafy herbs too - basil oil is amazing - but you'll want to heat the oil first. You can microwave it for a couple of minutes until its bubbling or use a small pot. Pour just barely boiling oil over the herbs into your jar. Also tastes amazing if you some combination of garlic cloves, peeled piece of citrus zest, hunk of ginger, or pinch of chili flakes. If you heat the oil for this method be sure to store it in the fridge!
Another variation for my boozy crowd (please tell me I have a boozy crowd) take any of these herbs and add to simple syrup instead of oil! Simple syrup is 1 cup water, 1 cup white sugar - bring to boil until sugar melts. Add herbs, cool together in jar, store in fridge. Now, where's my Mezcal?
Leafy: Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, Tarragon
Leafy herbs are more delicate. You want to use these up within a week a so. Leafy herbs have soft stalks, so if you're chopping them up quickly and catch a little piece, you can eat it. Many preparations actually call for chopping through the center stem, especially in Chinese or Greek cooking. I often eat the stems because I'm lazy and if you chop it small enough you can't even tell. Or save the stalks for stock!
When you take leafy herbs home from the market:
Lets talk about chives and green onions. Also, now that I think of it, parsley...and cilantro and mint.
BETTER BUTTER: Trick #3
butter gets fancy
I love butter. I almost couldn't cook without it. Compound butter is a fantastic thing and a great way to save herbs that are on their last leg. Let a stick of butter warm to very soft room temperature. You can cheat, but the more thoroughly room temp, the easier this is to mix. Chop any combination of leafy herbs (or woody herbs too, but if using them, either pull off of them stems white they're fresh or dry first in the oven and crumble. As described in Trick #1 above). With a fork combine 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (chives and scallions really shine here) with 1 stick of butter and a hefty pinch of salt. Optional: add a pinch of chili flakes, a teaspoon of yellow miso (OMG its so good like that), or a little citrus zest. Store butter wrapped tightly in the fridge - I usually just spoon it into a small ziplock bag and use the back of a knife to squeeze it all down to the bottom in a neat little roll. Once cold, it will be a sliceable log.
PESTO-ISH: Trick #4
most useful for a large amount of leafy herbs
If you have a bunch of herbs to go through, making salts and oils are nice, but a teaspoon in each recipe probably won't save the day. Its time to make a pesto-ish sauce. Pesto is a specific combination of ingredients - not just herbs in a blender - I'll surely post a great recipe this summer when basil is plentiful. I'm all for creative license in cooking but I find it unacceptable to alter a classic dish and not rename it appropriately. Don't
So for now, lets have a recipe for Herbs in A Blender!
Turns out I could keep going. I almost decided to become a herb only blog! Share your thoughts below, I'd love to hear your concerns or successes with buying, cooking with, and storing herbs.
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