05 March 2008

what to do with leftover fresh herbs

My friend Sabrina recently posted this question: "What do you do with the fresh herbs when you can't use them all. Is there some sort of drying technique to use? Ideally I would have an herb garden. But since I have been lazy and not gotten around to that, I get handful of herbs at the store. What do I do when I can't use them in time?"

Woodier, hardier herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano can easily be dried by grouping the stems with a rubber band, and hanging upside down from a low-humidity area, such as from a window or cabinet. They leaves will be dry within a couple of days, and you can either strip the stems and save the leaves, to use as you would any dried herb, or you can leave them as decoration, using only what you need, as necessary.

Wet, leafier herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley are a bit more difficult to salvage in the same way. However, you can freeze them chopped or whole in a baggie (squeeze all the air out first), though the consistency may change once you defrost them, so it'll be best to use these frozen herbs in a cooked dish, as opposed to fresh.You can also freeze the woody herbs in the same way.

To extend the life of your leafy herbs in the refrigerator, place them in a cup with water (like you would with flowers), or wrap them in a slightly damp paper towel and and baggie and place in the drawer. Woodier herbs can just be wrapped in a plain paper towel.

Many herbs taste lovely when made into a hot tea, or added to a tea you already have-- sage goes very well with peppermint tea, thyme plus a lemon slice and honey make for a throat soothing beverage, and cilantro and cucumber make a very refreshing cold essence water (put cilantro and cucumber into a pitcher and pour cool filtered water over it, allow the flavors to merge for at least an hour in the refrigerator). You can also scent your bath water by steeping some herbs in while you run the tap. If you want to avoid bits of herb in your tub, tie the sprigs into some cheese cloth, to make a sort of tea bag.

But if you're looking to use up your fresh herbs, just start adding them to everything-- salads, grains, beans, meats, soups, stocks, etc.-- they can really do wonders to perk up so many foods. If you have a lot leftover, you can make pestos, salad dressings, and marinades pretty easily. Check out some of these recipes.

Recipe: Garlic and Fresh-Herb Grilled Chicken
Serves 6-7
This recipe calls for an array of fresh herbs, but you can really use whatever herbs you have on hand. Even just one of these herbs would result in a tasty dish. Dried herbs work well too, though I like the more subtle and bright flavor of fresh herbs. If using dried herbs, you'll want to use less, so divide the amount by 1/2-3/4.

2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoons chopped rosemary
1 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 tablespoons chopped oregano
1 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons salt
2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to brush on the grill

1. Mix all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, garlic, and lemon juice, in a small bowl.

2. In a large bowl or ziptop bag, toss the chicken with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs, until each breast is covered. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the grill or stovetop grill pan on high heat. Brush the grill with olive oil and place the chicken breasts on the grill. Grill about 5-7 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of the meat. If you don’t have time to fire up the grill, you can cook these underneath the broiler for the same amount of time.

4. Cook until just done and no longer pink in the middle, and remove immediately to sit for 5-10 minutes on a plate. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe: Herbed Red Wine Vinaigrette
Makes about 2 1/4 cups

3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablesppons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano (1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (1/2 tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a food processor or blender, drizzling in the oil while the machine is running, until emulsified. Alternatively, whisk the ingredients in a bowl, drizzling in the oil after the other ingredients are well incorporated.

This will keep well for 7-10 days in the refrigerator.

Recipe: Cucumber-Mint Water
I love essence waters. They’re becoming more popular in bottled form, but you can make your own for the same price, but yielding dozens more servings! If you have time to let this hang out in the fridge for 30 or more minutes, it will be even more flavorful.

Small handful fresh mint, basil, or cilantro, torn from bunch
1/2 cucumber (peel first if waxed), sliced into rounds

1. Put the herbs and cucumber into a large pitcher (preferably glass), and top off with cool filtered water. Serve with ice.

2. You may continue to refill the pitcher with water for 2-3 days, or until the cucumbers no longer look crisp.

Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market

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