If, like many of us, you went on a gardening kick this spring, the chances are you planted a few herbs. Those lovely, bright-green starter plants have grown by now. They’ve filled up the bed or pot that you put them in and you’re probably wondering if you can use them fast enough.
At The Purple Onion, we say, “Sure you can!” There are few meals that a sprinkling of fresh herbs can’t brighten up. The good news is the more you pick and use them, the better the plants will grow and the more opportunities you’ll have to experiment with your herbs and summer’s fresh produce.
If you’re growing your own herbs, harvesting and using them are simple. It’s best to harvest them in the morning, after the dew has dried, and to cut or pick just what you need for the day’s menus. It’s best not to harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time, or you could stress the plant, causing it to grow slower or even die.
Use clean scissors or garden snips and wipe them clean between cutting different herbs. This helps to prevent diseases that could spread to other plants.
Chives, oregano, cilantro and parsley can be harvested near the base, 1 inch to 2 inches above dirt level. Rosemary, thyme and sage, as well other herbs that develop woody stems, can be cut anywhere along the stem above the woody part. Basil should be cut just above the point where two side branches leave the stem. Mint can be cut 3 inches to 4 inches from the top of the plant.
If you’re purchasing herbs at the market, look for fresh, bright colors and be sure the herbs are not wilted or yellow. Again, buy only what you need for a few days.
Once you have the herbs in your house, there are two main ways to store them. Chives, oregano, rosemary and thyme should be stored in a damp paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Place your basil in a vase with water, cover it with an open plastic bag and let it sit at room temperature. Cilantro, parsley and mint should also be placed in vases with water and covered with open plastic bags, but place them in the refrigerator. Of course, there are many other herbs, so check a cookbook or online resource for more about harvesting and storing those.
For breakfast, eggs and herbs are a perfect pairing. The mild flavor of eggs is a good backdrop for a variety of herbs. The Basic Scrambled Eggs with Herbs recipe will get you started, but you can use your imagination to try different combinations. Remember that when you are using more flavorful herbs like tarragon, dill, rosemary and sage, you might want to use slightly less.
A French scramble could include chervil, parsley, tarragon and chives. A Mediterranean scramble could include diced tomato, crumbled feta, parsley and mint.
Beyond eggs, breakfast frittatas, potatoes, breads, crepes and pancakes can easily incorporate herbs for fresh new tastes.
Quick breads are perfect foils for fresh herbs. The ever popular Dilly Bread puts dill in the forefront. The Lemon Thyme Bread gives thyme a chance to shine. Both are delightful for brunch or tea.
Switch up your regular ketchup-on-fries dip with a bright Cumin-Herb Sauce that will add kick to anything you want to dip in it. It’s a game-changer for fried chicken and fish!
Instead of barbecue sauce, try the Herbed Lemon Pepper Glaze on the next chicken you grill.
When basil is abundant, there are plenty of fresh tomato and basil sauce recipes to give you a traditional pasta dinner. But you can switch things up with two plentiful foods in one dish when you try the Summer Squash and Basil Pasta. The meal comes together quickly and is a nice change for a pasta dish.
Last but not least, give fruit some herb love with this Herbed Chevre-Stuffed Strawberries recipe from Chef John Wright at Bridge Road Bistro. It can be served as an appetizer or part of a dessert plate.