All Year Long
How to pick and preserve herbs to spice up your dishes all year long.
I love cooking with fragrant flavorful herbs. They enhance all kinds of foods, from main and side dishes to salads, soups, sauces and more.
Gathering the herbs.
If you like to garden, you likely have planted some herbs, whether directly in your garden, growing in containers on your patio or from pots on a sunny windowsill. To enjoy herbs at the peak of their flavor, you should pick when they're healthy and vigorous.
If herbs are not harvested soon enough and the plants form flowers, the flavor in the leaves can diminish and some can become bitter. Picking leaves regularly will encourage the plants to continue growing.
When harvesting herbs, most should be trimmed above leaf buds, where the plant branches out. But woody herbs like rosemary should be cut at the point where new branches grow off a central stem. (Do not cut the central stem as this will slow new growth.)
Even if your not a gardener, summer is a great time to buy fresh herbs, whether from your local farmer's market or grocery store. When selecting the herbs, pick firm stalks with leaves that are not wilted or bruised. If you have a choice between whole leaves or chopped herbs, choose whole leaves as they keep their flavor longer.
Cleaning and Storage of Fresh herbs.
If your not going to use them right away, you can store unwashed herbs for up to one week. Place bunches of herbs with there stems in a vase of water in the fridge. Keep the leaves out of the water. Put loose leaves in perforated plastic bags in the fridge, with a dry paper towel at the bottom of the bag to absorb excess moisture.
Once you are ready to use your herbs, you'll want to clean them. Place them in large bowl of cool water that has salt added to it. (The salt will drive away any insects without damaging the herbs.) Gently swish the herbs in the water, remove them and dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels on a plate.
Remove leaves from herb stems, like thyme, by holding the top of the stem and running your fingers down stem in opposite direction of leaf growth. Herbs with larger leaves, such as basil, should be cut from stems. Place herbs in small bowl an snip into small pieces with tips of kitchen scissors.
Freezing and Drying Herbs
For longer storage, once they are cleaned you can freeze or dry your herbs. Herbs can be frozen for 4 to 6 months.
Freeze whole herbs on a tray for about 3 hours, then crumble them, put in freezer container or heavy duty resealable bags, and return to freezer. This way you can remove the desired amount a spoonful at a time.
Another way to freeze herbs is to make them into herb ice cubes. Put chopped herbs in an ice cube tray and cover with water, broth or oil. Once frozen cubes can be stored in plastic containers or resealable bags. Herbs can be pre-measured this way and are great to add directly to sauces and soups.
Also you could choose to air dry your herbs. Tie them together in little bunches by the stems, then hang them upside down in an area that is out of the light and well ventilated, with low humidity. I have an attic room over my kitchen in this old house that I run a string in and tie them up there. You can also spread herbs loosely on paper placed on a screen or wire rack. Once completely dry, put in an airtight jar or container. Store in a cool dark place. Do not crumble or grind until going to use.
To substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe, use 1 teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs for every tablespoon of chopped fresh herb.
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