Despite the 17 plus inches of snow we got here in Green Bay a few weeks ago, there are a few signs of new life outside: blades of green grass beginning to pop through the brown earth and robins singing in the trees. Even though it may not look like it quite yet, spring is officially here! This means it’s time to make a mealtime transition from those hearty, warm soups and stews associated with winter to lighter fare that is complimented by the bright, fresh flavors of spring. One easy way to make this transition: experiment with lots of fresh herbs while cooking!
Herbs are often underutilized but are a key ingredient in healthy cooking. These bright green beauties add an abundance of color and flavor to any dish without the extra salt, fat, or calories found in many seasoning blends and sauces. Plus, they make your kitchen smell wonderful! In addition, researchers are finding that many culinary herbs are rich in antioxidants that may help protect against serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. No wonder many fresh herbs have such great NuVal™ scores! It’s hard to beat basil, which scores a perfect 100, parsley—99, and cilantro—99.
At your local Festival Foods store, take a walk through the Produce Department to see all the high-quality fresh herbs we have available. You’ll find thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, and many more—a wide variety that will complement whatever you have planned for dinner tonight! In addition, some of our stores sell organic, potted herbs that you can grow at home. These 4” potted plants sell for $5.99 and are the perfect way to have the freshest herbs available at your fingertips. Keep a couple pots on your sunny kitchen windowsill and you’ll have fresh basil, cilantro, or parsley whenever you want it!
While incorporating fresh herbs into everyday cooking may be intimidating to some individuals, it really is quite simple. Here are some great tips and tricks to help:
- When substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs, use three times as much as the recipe calls for. Fresh herbs have a high water content, so their flavor is not as concentrated as their dried counterparts.
- Purchase herbs close to the time when you plan to use them. Because many are fresh, delicate leaves that have been snipped from the plant, they will lose flavor and begin to wilt the longer they are stored.
- Place the cut ends of herbs in a tall glass with water in the bottom (like fresh cut flowers) and store in the refrigerator. You can also place them in an open or perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer for a few days.
- Wash your herbs right before using them. Be sure to remove excess moisture by patting herbs dry with paper towels or spinning them in a salad spinner.
- Add fresh herbs toward the end of cooking so that their flavors remain intact. Dried herbs, however, should be added in the early stages of cooking so the flavor has time to develop.
- If you cannot use them all within a few days of purchasing, fill the sections of an ice cube tray half full with extra herbs that have been finely chopped. Cover them with water and freeze. Next time you want to add extra flavor to something you’re cooking, toss in an herb-filled ice cube or two! This works especially well in soups/stews.
For a guide to some common fresh herbs along with delicious recipe ideas, visit Eating Well Magazine’s website.