Here are some tips to help you enjoy the flavor and health benefits of fresh herbs in your cooking. And if you've ever wondered whether or not to pronounce the "h" in "herb", the answer is: in the United States, it's pronounced "erb".
Cooking with Fresh Herbs
When Substituting Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs
A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb.
When to Pick or Purchase Herbs
Purchase herbs close to the time you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden, the ideal time for picking is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.
Interested in learning more about growing your own fresh herbs? Visit the "Garden Carnival" on April 17th at the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center, 1815 Popps Ferry Road, Biloxi,
9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Mini Seminars and Exhibits will be held related to all areas of gardening.
How to Store Herbs
Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. You can make a perforated bag by using a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.
To extend the freshness of herbs, snip off the ends of the stems on the diagonal. Place herbs in a tall glass with an inch of water, like cut flowers. Cover them loosely with a plastic bag to allow for air circulation. Place them in the refrigerator and change the water daily. Herbs may last a week or more stored this way. NOTE: The flavor of herbs may diminish the longer they're stored.
If you have more herbs than you can eat, enjoy herbal bouquets throughout your house. You can use either single herbs, combinations of herbs or you can use the herbs as greenery mixed in with other flowers. To help preserve the aroma and color of your herb bouquets, place them out of direct sunlight.
How to Prepare Herbs for Cooking
For most recipes, unless otherwise directed, mince herbs into tiny pieces. Chop with a chef's knife on a cutting board or snip with a kitchen scissors. Some recipes may direct you to cut large leaves, such as basil, "chiffonnade-stle" or into thin strips. An easy way to do this is to stack several leaves (about 3-5), roll into a tight roll, then cut into thin (1/16" to 1/8") strips with a sharp knife.
While some recipes call for a sprig or sprigs of herbs, normally the part of the herb you harvest will be the leaves. For herbs with sturdier stems, such as marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme, you can strip off the leaves by running your fingers down the stem from top to bottom. With small-leaved plants such as thyme, you can use both leaves and stems for cooking early in the season. Later in the season, as the stems become tougher, use just the leaves. For herbs with tender stems, such as parsley and cilantro, it's ok if you snip some of the stem in with the leaves when you're cutting these herbs.
Be careful if using a food processor to cut herbs—it's easy to turn them to a paste rather than tiny pieces.
When to Add Herbs during Food Preparation
Unlike dried herbs, fresh herbs are usually added toward the end in cooked dished to preserve their flavor. Add the more delicate herbs—basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint—a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it's served. The less delicate herbs, such as dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking. Obviously, for some foods, such as breads, batters, etc., you'll need to add herbs at the beginning of the cooking process.
Fresh herbs can be added to refrigerated cold foods several hours before serving. Allowing time (at least a couple of hours, if possible) for cold foods with herbs to chill helps the flavors to blend.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
4 small to medium sweet potatoes
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or ¾ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Scrub and peel the potatoes and cut into ¾" slices. Steam over boiling water for 20-25 minutes or until very soft. When they are ready, place them into a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Stir in thyme, salt, and pepper and serve.
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