herbs and how to use them

Your box and sometimes the choice table are both featuring fresh herbs these days, so i thought it might be helpful to some if I brought you a low-down on how to use them. Some people are intimidated by herbs, especially fresh ones, but you certainly don’t need to be. here’s a list of what might show up for you this summer:

(lists and info from epicurious.com and expertscolumn.com. photos from BBC food)


Basil: Tastes of mint, anise, pepper and cloves, Use it for pesto, any vegetable, eggs, cheese, salad or soup.

Characteristics: Basil is the most commonly used herb in the United States, (and Canada!)  and the two varieties usually available (purple and green) have very different appearances. The leaves of the purple basil tend to be smaller, and while both kinds of basil share a similar flavor profile — peppery and minty with a touch of sweetness — sweet basil is relatively sweeter than its purple counterpart. Green basil is largely showcased in dishes from Italy (basil pesto) and Southeast Asia (green chicken curry), proving its versatility. The dark color of purple basil makes it a wonderful garnish in dishes. Regardless of which kind you cook with, add the leaves at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.


Oregano: Tastes of pepper and marigold, Use in tomato sauce, pizza, fish and anything that takes garlic.

Alternate names: Wild marjoram, pot marjoram
Characteristics: Oregano’s hint of sweetness combined with some spiciness adds warmth to any dish. Fresh oregano can be difficult to find in the marketplace and because dried oregano has a stronger flavor than the fresh, use it sparingly. Mediterranean (Greek) oregano is typically milder than Mexican oregano, the former being used in pizza seasonings and the latter sometimes called for in chili recipes.


Parsley: Green grassy taste, Use in boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, eggs, salads. Try it on different dishes.

varities: Curly parsley, flat-leafed (Italian) parsley
Characteristics: This unsung hero can do more than just garnish a plate. In French and Italian cooking, many a stock, stew, and soup calls for ‘bouquet garni’ flavored by this herb. Generally speaking, flat parsley has a peppery bite whereas the curly kind is relatively bland. And as their names denote, they have textural differences, too. Pastas and egg recipes often benefit from a sprinkling of chopped parsley; the herb’s clean, light flavor cuts down on heavy creaminess and also acts as a palate-cleanser. For something different, try substituting parsley for basil when making pesto. (one of our favourite things to do with it is Tabule/Tabbouleh salad)


Mint: Refreshing cool taste, Use it with Lamb, eggs, fruit salad, green peas and iced tea.

Characteristics: In the United States, the two most widely available varieties of mint are peppermint and spearmint. The leaves of both plants look similar, with their rough-fuzzy, jagged leaves, but they part ways when it comes to their taste: Peppermint has a strong, cooling aftertaste due to the high concentration of menthol; spearmint is lighter and sweeter to the palate. Lesser-known types of mint include ginger, apple, and curly mint, which, when used in large quantities, impart the flavor that is connected to its name. Mint is a common ingredient in Thai food like rolls, as well as in Middle Eastern dishes such as Tabbouleh and in traditional mint tea from North Africa. It’s not unusual to see mint paired with lamb or chocolate; other popular uses for the herb are jellies, sauces and cocktails such as the mint julep and mojito.


Dill: Lemony taste, Salmon, potato dishes, mayonnaise based salads.

Alternate names: dill leaf, dillweed, dill weed
Characteristics: This herb resembles a finer, more delicate fern with leaves that are soft, like super fine hairs. Dill elicits strong reactions: Some describe the flavor as clean and grassy, while others dislike it for being tangy and earthy. And even though this herb is often associated with Scandinavian cuisine (especially salmon) — gravlax, anyone?  – it’s found in other international dishes, as well: tzatziki (Greek), corn(Indian), and borscht (Eastern Europe). Often used in pickling, dill goes well with potatoes and dips that incorporate mayonnaise and sour cream.


Rosemary: Tastes piney, bittersweet. Use on lamb, beans, poultry and pork.

haracteristics: Rosemary has a strong, even pungent, pinelike fragrance and flavor. Recipes that call for rosemary tend to require the needles to be stripped off their branches and chopped before cooking. But don’t overlook the woody stems, which can be used to flavor soups and roasts. Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary gained popularity with Italian cooking in Tuscan favorites like schiacciata, a flatbread that is sometimes made savory with rosemary-infused oil, and chicken cacciatore. The herb pairs well with pork chops, poultry, and even fish, (especially when grilled). enjoy the herb in potatoes. For an unusual sweet-savory treat, consider rosemary shortbread cookies.


Tarragon: Tastes bitter sweet and peppery, Use it in chicken, fish, sea food and mayonnaise based salads.

Alternate name: French tarragon, Dragon herb
Characteristics: Tarragon’s glossy, long, tapered leaves impart a delicate anise flavor (like licorice and fennel) that is more sweet than strong. The herb is often paired with foods that easily absorb other flavors such as chicken, scallops, and eggs. Once considered the king of herbs in French cuisine, tarragon is an essential ingredient in the classic bearnaise sauce. It’s not an easy herb to keep for long periods of time so it is often placed in a bottle of vinegar. Elegant in form, the herb also makes for an elegant garnish.


Thyme: Pungent lemony taste, Use in soups. poultry, soups, beans, and stuffing.

Characteristics: The tiny leaves on this low-growing woody plant work best in tandem with other herbs and spices such as basil, sage, and lavender. Thyme is a major ingredient in the classic French flavoring herbes de Provence. And it plays a major role, next to parsley and bay leaf, in another blend of French herbs, bouquet garni, a crucial flavor component in broths, soups, and stews. Thyme’s importance in Middle Eastern cooking cannot be understated; along with oregano and marjoram, it is a crucial element in zaatar. This herbal blend is often used in flatbreads such as pita, as well as to flavor roasted meat and poultry. Like rosemary, recipes calling for thyme require you to strip the leaves off the woody stems. Using the entire herb infuses a headier scent and flavor.


Cilantro: Tastes grassy, citrus, Use in Tex Mex dishes, Thai curry, Asian soups, chimichurri sauces.

Alternate names: Coriander leaf, Chinese parsley, koyendoro, Mexican parsley, pak chee, yuen-sai, green coriander, coriander green, dhania
Characteristics: You either love cilantro or hate it. Its leaves look like flat-leaf parsley’s, but note the smaller leaves and lankier stem. Cilantro’s flavor is described by some as bright and citrusy, and as soapy by others. This herb pops up in the cuisines of India, Mexico, and Vietnam in dishes like dhania chutney, salsa and pho. The seeds of the plant are called coriander and are used in some pickling recipes, as well as in boerewors, a South African sausage.


Chives: Mild delicate member of the onion family. Use in in eggs, salads, sauces.

Characteristics: Related to onions and other bulb vegetables, this herb looks a lot like lawn grass. Its deep-green hollow stems lend a refreshingly light oniony taste, which helps cut down on the heaviness of rich foods such as blue cheese and chive dressing and risotto cakes. When finely chopped, chives work well as a garnish. (use wherever you would want a light onion flavor – potatoes, salads, soups…. this one is super versatile. my 11-month old, for instance, just eats stalks of this off the plant straight up.)


Sage: Strong earthy flavor, Use in poultry, stuffing, cheese, breads.

Characteristics: This plant’s light gray-green leaves are soft and fuzzy, and its taste ranges from mild to slightly peppery with some touches of mint. Because of its pronounced flavoring, sage is a good herb to pair with foods traditionally considered heavy, rich, and creamy, like meats  (sausage), and certain dairy products such as cheese and cream (ravioli with sage cream sauce), as well as sweet and savory breads (cornbread). Unlike more delicate herbs, sage can be added in the beginning of the cooking process. (try this – toss a handful of sage leaves into a pan of melted butter. keep it warm and allow the sage to infuse the butter. use this sauce on simple pasta dishes, especially on stuffed pastas. you can strain out the sage before serving, or not, as you please)

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3 Responses to herbs and how to use them

  1. Melanie July 12, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Great post! I’ve pinned all of these photos to my new flavour bible board!


  2. Amanda Gusman November 13, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I usually use Oregano leaves in any dish and pasta that i bake but it is good to know that Oregano is also rich in vitamins and minerals.-

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  3. Adrianne Forden November 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    i always put herbs and spices on every meal that i cook.,

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