Adding fresh herbs is a quick way to transform ORDINARY meals into EXTRAORDINARY meals. Besides helping flavour foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar, herbs may offer additional benefits of their own. Researchers are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease.
Cooking with Fresh Herbs
Preparing dishes that requires a lengthy cooking period use a small, tied bunch of fresh herb sprigs, known as a bouquet garni. It traditionally comprises parsley(or parsley stalks, which have lots of flavor), a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf. The bouquet garni also contains whole peppercorns. These herbs may be bundled into a strip of leek or a piece of celery stalk, or tied in a muslin bag or with string, to keep them together during cooking and allow easy removal before serving.
Herbal combinations can also be minced and added to a meal immediately upon completion of cooking, and as a garnish before serving. This French practice is referred to as fines herbs. It may contain chopped fresh chervil, parsley, tarragon, and chives. This blend is good on cuisine like salads, scrambled eggs, and dishes containing poultry and fish.
There are no hard rules when cooking with fresh herbs. Start to experiment using small amounts to see what you like. Here are a few ideas that will help you get started:
• Start sparingly with the amount of an herb used until you become familiar with it.
• Try not to mix two very strong herbs together.
• Try mixing one strong and one or more with milder flavours to complement both the stronger herb and the food.
• Usually, the weaker the flavour of the food (like eggs), the less added herbs are required to get a nice balance of flavour.
• If chopping fresh herbs, chop the leaves very fine because the more of the oils and flavour will be released.
• Add fresh herbs to stews about 45 minutes before completing the cooking time. For refrigerated foods such as dips, cheese, vegetables and dressings, fresh herbs should be added several hours or overnight before using. Note: Fresh Basil is an exception. If you add it to salad dressing overnight or longer, it becomes bitter.
• For soups, salsa and hot sauces add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs directly to the mixture.
• Flavor vinegar for use in cooking. Bruise one cup of leaves for every 2 cups of white wine or delicate vinegar. Allow to steep for two weeks.
• Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, and powdered herbs are more concentrated than crumbled.