I am crazy about herbs, and grow many of my own. Cooking with herbs enhances everything from the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen to the taste of the food.
Herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food. Most are available fresh or dried. Drying alters flavors and aromas, so try to use fresh products for cooking with herbs when possible.
Did you know you can grow your own herbs, salad greens, and even tomatoes indoors? This Aero-Garden System actually waters your plants and turns the lights on and off. When you need fresh herbs, just snip them from your own indoor garden.
Basil – Basil is available in many flavors – cinnamon, garlic, lemon, and even chocolate. The most common is sweet basil. Basil has a peppery taste with a hint of cloves. It is used in Mediterranean cuisines and has a special affinity for garlic and tomatoes. Look for bright green leaves when purchasing.
Cilantro – The green leafy portion of the plant that yields seeds known as coriander. Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley. It is sharp and tangy with an strong aroma and almost citrus flavor. It is usually used in Asian, South America, and Mexican cuisines. Cilantro’s flavor is completely destroyed by drying.
Curry Leaves – They have a strong currylike fragrance and a citrus-curry flavor. They are often added to a preparation whole, then removed before serving. Choose fresh green leaves; dry leaves have no flavor. It is used in Indian and Thai dishes. Do not confuse curry leaves with curry powder.
Dill – The leaves taste like parsley, but sharper, with a touch of anise. Dill seeds are flat, oval and brown, with a bitter flavor similar to caraway. Dill is commonly used in Scandinavian and central European cuisines. Add dill leaves after the dish is removed from heat.
Lavender – Although lavender is known for its aroma, soaps and cosmetics, the flowers are also used as a flavoring. Lavender has a sweet, lemony flavor. It is mostly used in preserves and jams and also to flavor teas.
Marjoram – Its flavor is similar to thyme but sweeter; it also has a stronger aroma. Marjoram is used in many European cuisines. It is one of the few herbs whose flavor increases when dried. Wild marjoram is more commonly known as oregano.
Mint – Mint includes many species and flavors (even chocolate). Spearmint is the most common variety. It has soft, bright green leaves and a tart aroma and flavor. Mint does not blend well with other herbs, so it is usually confined to certain foods such as fruits or fatty meats like lamb. Mint can also be used in a beverage or used as a garnish.
Oregano – Oregano is a peppery herb used mostly in Greek and Italian cuisines as well as Mexican cuisines. It is a classic complement to tomatoes. Oregano bears clumps of dark, tiny green leaves, which are available dried and crushed.
Parsley – Parsley is probably the most widely used herb in the world. It grows in all climates, is available in many varieties, and is rich in vitamins and minerals. Curly parsley is most common in the United States and Northern Europe. It has small curly leaves and a bright green color. It has a tangy flavor.
Italian parsley (shown here) has flat leaves, darker color, and coarser flavor. Both types can be used in any foods except sweets. Chefs use Italian parsley the most.
Sage – Sage was used as a medicine before it was introduced in the kitchen. Culinary sage has fuzzy, gray-green leaves and blue flowers. It has a strong balsamic flavor and does not blend well with other herbs. Sage is used in poultry dishes, with fatty meats, or brewed as a beverage.
Hopefully you’ve found my little crash course on the basic herbs enlightening and are now ready to start doing a little more cooking with herbs yourself.
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