A lot of us don’t want to admit this, but summer here in Chicago is winding down, and it's already starting to feel like fall. But the farmers markets are still going strong, and there is an abundance of produce available, including fresh herbs. Fresh herbs will make every recipe you make much better than using a dry version of the same herb.
Herbs can be broken down into three categories:
- Annuals: plants that complete their lifecycle in a growing season, from seeds to flowers and back to seeds. Examples of annuals are basil, dill, cilantro, chervil, etc.
- Biennials: plants that complete their lifecycle in two growing seasons. Examples of biennials are parsley, watercress, sage, etc.
- Perennials: these plants survive winer to come back year after year for many seasons. Common examples are thyme, lavender, mint, chives, lemongrass, etc.
Basil is an aromatic herb, easy to work with and inexpensive, however it's very fragile and the leaves turn brown and bruise easy. My advice is to buy it often and use it fast. If stored in the refrigerator, place it in a brown bag in the lowest point in your fridge, which is also the warmest! The best way to have fresh basil all year round is to grow it. Basil is best used as a finishing component in dishes, such as sprinkled on top of mozzarella.
Parsley contains iron along with many other healthy nutrients. It is most often used to garnish food and make it look great! It can be sprinkled over your finished dish, added to a salad, or paired with fruit in a refreshing smoothie. There is two kinds of parsley, curly and the flat leaf Italian parsley. No rule exist as to when and which kind to use. I find Italian flat leaf parsley easier to work with, as it’s easier to chop and it has more favor.
There are herb crispers, spinners, and lots of other gadgets for washing herbs. It's best to wash herbs whole, still on the stem, but don’t forget to pat them dry and let them dry before storing them in the refrigerator.
The perennials such as thyme work a little different. You only use the small leaves, which are removed from the stem, and finely chopped. Thyme is especially great added to your favorite marinade.
If you’re interested in learning more about herbs and spices, don't miss The Chopping Block's Beginner's Guide to Fresh Herbs and Spices. We also teach you how to work with these flavorful wonders and give you creative ways to use herbs when cooking in our Cooking Lab: Flavor Dynamics class.