Fresh herbs can alter and enhance the flavor of any dish. To chefs, they’re basic ingredients. To novices, they’re intimidating. It can be tough to identify herbs and even more difficult to know how to use them. This simple guide is a good place to start.
Description: Nothing divides people quite like cilantro. You either love it or hate it. Cilantro is distinctive and bright. It has small, round and delicate leaves with long stems. It is most often found in Asian, Mexican and Latin American cuisines.
Preparation: To use cilantro, coarsely chop the leaves and delicate stems or use the leaves whole.
Uses: You can find it in Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai curries but we know it best in Mexican foods like guacamole and salsas.
Description: The ultimate summer herb, basil is fragrant with a slightly sweet taste. It’s green and leafy.
Preparation: Basil is delicate and easily bruised. We recommend tearing the leaves or using them whole.
Uses: Basil is the backbone to pesto. And no tomato, mozzarella salad is complete without it. It’s great on pizzas as well and perfect stirred into a marinara sauce.
Description: Dill has a mild anise flavor that wakes up any dish. It’s long and wispy without well-defined leaves.
Preparation: Dill can be coarsely chopped or torn.
Uses: Dill goes very well with roasted carrots, parsnips and beets. It’s the perfect friend to salmon (cured or baked), potato salads and any kind of egg you like.
Description: Flat-leaf parsley (aka Italian parsley) is slightly peppery and very versatile. It looks similar to cilantro but has pointier and slightly heartier leaves.
Preparation: To use flat-leaf parsley, cut the leaves from the stems and coarsely chop them.
Uses: Parsley goes particularly well with mushrooms, peas, tomatoes, as well as pasta, fish and chicken dishes. Parsley is wonderful chopped and sprinkled into soups and stews. Though a tender herb by nature, it can withstand longer cooking than most in its family.
Description: Curly parsley tastes much milder than its flat-leaf cousin. Its leaves look just like you’d expect – curled at the edges.
Preparation: Curly parsley is most often finely chopped.
Uses: Much more than a garnish, curly parsley is the basis to tabbouleh – a bulgur wheat salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and lemon. It’s also delicious swirled into melted butter with wine and garlic for a quick sauce for chicken or shrimp.
Description: Tarragon is aromatic with a distinctive licorice flavor. Its leaves are long and thin.
Preparation: Tarragon can be chopped or snipped with scissors.
Uses: Next time you make a chicken potpie, try adding chopped tarragon. It also goes really well with eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, fish and sprinkled into green salads.
Description: Chives have a mellow onion flavor. Their long leaves are round and hollow.
Preparation: Chives can be cut to desired length with a knife or scissors.
Uses: Eggs and chives get along well- try them in your scrambled or deviled eggs. They’re also delicious in green salads and potato salads. And why not mix them into your favorite cornbread or biscuit recipe for a change?
Description: Chervil’s mild flavor is a cross between parsley and anise. It has long stems with small, lacy leaves.
Preparation: Chervil can be chopped or used as a garnish.
Uses: Because it is so delicate, it is often sprinkled over cooked foods like soups, fish, chicken and such vegetables as carrots and asparagus. It’s perfect sprinkled into tender butter lettuce salads, too.
Description: Peppermint has a cool aftertaste. Its leaves are bright green and look a little waxy. It’s often used in desserts and drinks.
Preparation: Peppermint leaves can be used whole, torn or muddled.
Uses: Try peppermint whole or muddled in iced tea, lemonade or mojitos. Also delicious used torn and tossed with sliced strawberries and sugar.
Description: Spearmint is milder than peppermint, but still has that cool aftertaste. The leaves look similar to peppermint, though less waxy.
Preparation: Spearmint can be chopped or used whole.
Uses: Perfect for desserts but just as delicious used in a mint sauce for lamb or sprinkled over prosciutto and melon.
Description: Oregano is pungent and slightly peppery. Its leaves are short and wide
Preparation: Its leaves can be used whole or chopped.
Uses: Oregano goes well with tomatoes, eggplant, fish, lamb, and pork. But it’s best known for the part it plays in pizzas and pastas.
Description: Rosemary is woodsy with lemon and pine aromas. It has thin leaves that look a little like pine needles.
Preparation: Using your fingers, pull the rosemary needles from the sprig in the opposite direction they grow. Use them whole or chopped.
Uses: Commonly used in Mediterranean cuisines, rosemary can stand up to bold flavors and long cooking. It’s delicious used in marinades for beef, chicken and lamb. Or roasted with potatoes. Or stirred into beef or white bean stews.
Description: Thyme is a fragrant herb with mint and lemon aromas. Its leaves are small and grow on sprigs.
Preparation: Pull thyme leaves from the sprig in the opposite direction they grow – there’s no need to chop. You can also use the sprigs whole.
Uses: Thyme is incredibly versatile and delicious in soups and stews, roasted with fish or pork, and also goes well with a variety of vegetables like carrots, peas and tomatoes.
Description: Sage is earthy and pungent. Its leaves are medium size with a velvety texture. With sage a little goes a long way.
Preparation: Sage can be used whole or chopped.
Uses: Sage is a usual suspect in Thanksgiving dinners, most commonly in stuffing. It’s delicious roasted with sweet potatoes, butternut squash or cauliflower as well and is the perfect accompaniment to pork and sausages.
Description: The aromatic bay leaf comes in two main varieties: the Turkish bay leaf (which has 1 to 2-inch-long oval leaves) and the Californian bay leaf (which has 2 to 3-inch-long narrow leaves.)
Preparation: Most often found dried rather than fresh, use whole leaves to flavor a dish, but remove before serving because they are bitter if eaten.
Uses: Add a bay leaf or two to soups, stews, black beans and rice dishes.
When you’re picking up herbs at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, they should always look fresh and perky. Watch out for discolorations or wilting. Take a quick whiff to see if you like their potency and aroma.
Once you get the herbs home, it’s best to store them on the top shelf of the refrigerator, which is often the warmest area. They should be wrapped in a dry paper towel and placed in an unsealed plastic baggie. If the roots are still attached, leave the bunch of herbs on the countertop in a glass filled with water. Wash your herbs just before you use them, not before you store them.
Keep in mind that robust herbs such as rosemary and thyme can withstand long cooking times. But tender herbs such as basil and cilantro should be added right before the dish is done cooking. Tender herbs can also be eaten raw in salads.
The quality of the herb suffers a bit once frozen, but it’s a great way to not waste your herbs. Frozen herbs are best used in cooked dishes rather than as a garnish or raw. Chop the leaves or use them whole straight from the freezer (do not thaw).
to freeze: Rinse the herbs and pat completely dry. Spread out on a sheet pan and freeze. Transfer the frozen herbs to freezer-proof bags, and freeze for up to 1 month.
Best herbs for freezing: rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, parsley, tarragon, dill and chives.