Cooking With Herbs: 12 Herbs to Know and Love
Herbs can add flavor, texture, and color to just about every dish you cook. But if you like to experiment with herbs and spices, it’s important to know what each herb smells and tastes like and when to add it to your dish for maximum flavor. Whether you’re looking to learn more about the herbs in recipes you already love or want to create recipes of your own, here’s everything you need to know about cooking with herbs.
What Types of Cooking Herbs Should I Use?
When it comes to cooking with herbs, the choices can be overwhelming. In addition to the dozens of different seasoning herbs available, you’ll want to consider the benefits and drawbacks of both dried and fresh herbs. Here are three types of cooking herbs you may want to explore:
- Dried spices are convenient, affordable, and have a long shelf life. However, they don’t have quite the same flavor as fresh herbs.
- Fresh, cut herbs are delicious and aromatic, but have a limited shelf life and can get expensive depending on how many you need.
- Herb plants provide tons of flavor and can live for years to provide herbs whenever you need them. However, they do require care and maintenance to keep them alive and thriving.
No matter what kind you use, learning how to use herbs will take your cooking to the next level and add more complex flavors to your favorite dishes.
How Can I Store Leftover Herbs?
Dried herbs are good for one to three years, so leftovers can go right back in the cabinet to be stored in a cool, dark place. However, if you have lots of fresh herbs leftover, they can easily be frozen to extend their shelf life. Simply fill an ice cube tray with olive oil, then add in your seasoning herbs, broken up into small pieces. Then, thaw or add to a hot pan next time you’re cooking with herbs. Herbs frozen in this way will last for six to nine months.
12 Herbs to Cook With This Week
Establishing a solid spice rack is a great way to improve your cooking skills and grow your pantry. Here are our 12 favorite seasoning herbs to know, love, and experiment with.
Basil is a super versatile herb commonly found in Italian and Meditteranean dishes. Its flavor is the perfect mix of sweet and savory, making it an excellent choice to balance the acid in tomato-based sauces and dishes. Cooking with herbs like basil is also a great way to season vegetables like green beans, peas, potatoes, and salad greens. Dried basil can be added to a sauce at any point during cooking, but if you opt to use fresh basil, you’ll want to add it at the end or on top of the final dish. This will prevent the leaves from getting soggy and tough.
2. Bay Leaves
Bay leaves have a strong, pungent, mint-like flavor. While fresh leaves are harder to come by, dried versions are widely available at supermarkets everywhere. Bay leaves are commonly used in sauces, stews, and gumbos to season the broth. Just be sure to remove your bay leaves at the end, as they are quite large and can disrupt your eating experience!
Chives are members of the onion family and have a similar flavor to their round counterparts. However, unlike traditional red and white onions, their flavor is much more subtle, and they can be included in dishes raw without overpowering the other flavors. Chop finely or cut with kitchen scissors and add them at the end of your cooking or as a final garnish. Chives are the perfect finishing touch for eggs, salads, potato dishes, poultry, and sauces.
Cilantro is a fresh and aromatic herb that is commonly used in Mexican and Chinese food. However, due to a genetic response, some people find that cilantro has a bitter or soapy taste. Cilantro can be added during cooking for a more subtle infusion or as a final garnish for a stronger, brighter flavor. As long as you enjoy it, feel free to add it to salsas, chutneys, chicken, pork, salads, and tacos.
Dill is a pungent and tangy spice often found in Mediterranean cooking. It pairs beautifully with parsley for a fresh, green garnish on dozens of dishes. We love dill on salmon, peas, eggplant, cabbage, cucumber, and salads. Dill is also heavily used in canning to create dill pickles, dilly beans, and other fermented treats. When cooking with herbs like dill, you can also whip up a quick tzatziki sauce for meat or salad by adding Greek yogurt and chopped cucumber.
Oregano is an earthy spice that adds depth of flavor to meats and Italian food. It also pairs nicely with citrus like lemon, which can brighten up its otherwise peppery taste. We love oregano on a variety of meats including lamb, chicken, pork, and seafood. It is also a classic component of tomato-based sauces like pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and marinara sauce. Oregano retains lots of flavor even when dried, so don’t feel the need to splurge on a fresh version of this herb.
Marjoram has a very similar flavor to oregano but is slightly sweeter. It is also a staple of tomato-based sauces and is one of the key flavors in pizza sauce. We suggest adding marjoram to fish stews, stuffing, and egg dishes, as well as carrots, beans, and salad greens.
Mint has a strong, sweet, and recognizable flavor. It is especially delicious when grown and served fresh, and it comes in many flavor varieties to cater to your needs, including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, and even chocolate mint. We love mint added to teas and drinks, fresh desserts alongside fruit, and meat dishes like lamb and fish.
Parsley has a clean, bright, and subtle flavor. It’s delicious on nearly any savory food, including meats like beef, chicken, and seafood, as well as potatoes, sauces, soups, and salads. Fresh parsley makes a huge difference in appearance, flavor, and texture, so opt for fresh over dried whenever possible.
Rosemary has a fresh but pungent taste that is reminiscent of pine. When cooking with herbs like rosemary, be sure to chop the leaves finely and use them sparingly, as they can easily overpower the other flavors of the dish. We love rosemary on poultry, lamb, potatoes, and bread.
Sage is slightly bitter and is often compared to mint. Like rosemary, you’ll want to use sage sparingly, as it can be overpowering. The stems can be used whole in soups and stews and removed before serving, similar to bay leaves. The leaves can be chopped thinly and used in pork, veal, sausage, and poultry dishes, as well as in sauces. Fresh sage and dried sage have two very different flavor profiles, so be sure to try both and see which you prefer.
Tarragon has a strong and unique flavor with notes of licorice and lemon. It’s very aromatic and can elevate any meal. Tarragon pairs well with parsley on veal, chicken, potatoes, mushrooms, and tomato-based dishes. Since tarragon has very delicate leaves, it loses a lot of its flavor during the drying process. When cooking with herbs like tarragon, opt for fresh over dried for maximum flavor!
Thyme is an earthy but subtle herb that can be used at all stages of cooking. Whole sprigs add depth to soups and stews, while the leaves are great for adding during cooking or as a final garnish. We love thyme in seafood, poultry, pork, veal, vegetables, and bread. Thyme retains its flavor when dried, so don’t feel the need to splurge on fresh.