Does this sound familiar? You need two or three tablespoons of an herb for a recipe. However, your grocery store only sells herbs in large bunches, so you have no choice but to buy the whole bundle. When you're done cooking, you have an abundance of herbs left over, but you don't know what to do with them. So they sit in your fridge until they become wilted, dried out, splotchy, or even spoiled.
Has that been you? Because that's certainly been me.
I mean, you could make pesto, (and who doesn't like pesto?) but what if they're just a little too not-so-green for pesto? Brown and grey pesto isn't exactly top notch, now is it?
Now if your herbs are slimy or too wet looking, they are spoiled, so toss them and don't look back. But if your herbs that have wilted, they're fine. If they are lightening in color, they're still good. If you see some brown splotches on them, they are not rotten. They are merely oxidized. You'll see this occur in very delicate herbs, like basil, cilantro, mint, and oregano (you can tell an herb is delicate by their very soft stems).
Sometimes when herbs pass their prime, they will become dry while on the stem. This tends to occur with herbs that are heartier, like rosemary and thyme (heartier herbs have firmer, more woody stems).
When both groups of herbs reach their respective stages, they are still totally usable!
So what can you make with them? Pesto might be out of the question, unless you want brown and army green pesto (I assume you don't want that). But there are other creative ways to use herbs. How about a simple syrup? YES! Savory dishes always get the herbal attention, but herbs and sweet things are beautiful when done right!
A few months ago, I was working The Chopping Block's Lemon Lovers class, a class that is all recipes of, you guessed it, LEMONS. While working on an appetizer for the class, I noticed a large quantity of basil that looked like it needed to be used within a day. It was still usable, as it just had a bunch of brown splotches and had a beautiful basil smell. But for presenting on a dish, I wasn't feeling it.
That day was a very hot day, and we also had a lot of lemon juice on hand as well. So I thought, “OOO, basil lemonade!” So I used the basil to make an infused simple syrup, mixed it with lemon juice and club soda, and voila! A cool and refreshing basil lemonade, perfect for a hot summer day!
I started experimenting at home with other herbs that I thought would make beautiful simple syrups. I had some successes and failures. I have found that the ones that make great simple syrups are basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.
Here is the recipe for a basic simple syrup, with measurements for the specific herbs I like to use for infusion:
2 cups sugar (I had cane sugar on hand, which makes the syrup slightly darker.)
1½ cups water
Your choice of whole herbs and stems in the following quantities:
- 2 cups loosely packed basil
- 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
- 2 cups loosely packed mint
- 1 cup loosely packed oregano
- 1-2 sprigs rosemary
- 8-10 sprigs thyme
Place sugar, water, and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is clear. Turn off the heat, and let the syrup cool completely. Once cooled, strain through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container and discard the herbs. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
What to do with your herbaceous syrup? Oh, the combinations! Thyme with tea, cilantro for margaritas, oregano with gin, rosemary with rum, mint in fruit salad, basil over ice cream, and so many more! I’m feeling maybe some St. Germain, lemon, club soda, and beautiful thyme syrup.
You could even add other ingredients to your syrup, (ginger, lemongrass, citrus zest, other fruits, etc). Try a combination of herbs in your syrup. So the next time you open the fridge and see unpresentable herbs, grab the sugar, not the trash can. Those sad looking herbs will become peppy again.
Now that you have some delicious syrups, you should know how to use them in cocktails. Join us for our new hands-on Mixology 101 cocktail class Tuesday at the Merchandise Mart with Tim Williams of Pour Souls.