Everyone likes at least a little seasoning in their food, beyond the usual salt and pepper. Seasonings, and herbs in particular, can dramatically affect the way something smells and tastes, thus offering more variety in our meals and more ways to please our palates.
Fresh herbs versus dried
While it is often easier or more expedient to cook with dry herbs -- they come in convenient bottles and are more or less stable for months -- they're not always appropriate, and they don't always provide exactly the right flavor or texture. So how do you know which to use, fresh herbs or dried? According to delishmegish.com, you first need to determine how much of the herb you need:
If you’re making a dish that spotlights a particular herb, you’ll want to use a fresh one. Take pesto, for instance. You’d never pour 2 cups of dried basil into a food processor and hope for a luscious green pesto sauce — you’d use fresh basil leaves, no doubt. For something robust and savory like pesto, it’s important to use fresh herbs or that earthy bite. But, if you’re making chicken ratatouille, a dish that requires several ingredients, it’s safe to use dried herbs. After all, you’d only use a few tablespoons of dried marjoram.
And you should also look at the quantity of other herbs and seasonings in the recipe:
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is, the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the fresher and finer they should be. When you’re whipping up something like frico, a crunchy treat that needs only parmesan cheese, lemon zest and basil, fresh leaves are an absolute must. This way, you taste the sharp saltiness of the cheese, the fragrant lemon and of course, the basil, that initial peppery flavor that ultimately dissolves into minty sweetness.
How to prepare fresh herbs
Note: Before utilizing any of the following methods, thoroughly rinse your herbs under cool water. Gently blot them dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove the excess moisture.
The best knife for chopping herbs is sharp with a wide blade, such as a chef’s knife or a Chinese cleaver, that lets you chop without hitting your fingers on the cutting board. Don’t use serrated-edge knives, because they won’t cut cleanly!
Stripping - You can remove tiny leaves from herbs such as thyme by holding onto the stem with one hand and stripping the leaves into a bowl using the other hand.
Snipping - To cut larger clean and dry fresh herbs, place leaves in a measuring cup or bowl and snip them with kitchen scissors, using short, quick strokes. For herbs with tough stems, such as rosemary, strip the leaves from the stem first.
Chiffonade - A chiffonade is a bunch of thin strips or shreds. To create a chiffonade of herbs, roll up larger leaves, such as basil, and cut across the roll
To store unprepared herbs, cut a 1/2 inch from the stems. Stand stem ends in a small jar with some water. Loosely cover leaves with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Don't refrigerate basil -- it may blacken. Discard wilted leaves as they appear.
Ratio of fresh herbs to dried (substitutions)
When cooking with fresh and dry herbs, there is a general rule when it comes to the ratio of fresh to dry. Because dried herbs are generally more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you won't require as much. Roughly speaking, you need about three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry. So, for example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, you would need 1 tablespoon of fresh if you wanted to do a substitution.
Herbs that are commonly used fresh [courtesy of cookinglight.com]
Basil - One of the most important culinary herbs. Sweet basil, the most common type, is redolent of licorice and cloves. Basil is used in the south of France to make pistou; its Italian cousin, pesto, is made just over the border. Used in sauces, sandwiches, soups, and salads, basil is in top form when married to tomatoes, as in the famous salad from the island of Capri—Insalata Caprese, made with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and fruity olive oil.
Mint - Mint isn't just a little sprig that garnishes your dessert plate. It is extremely versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. In the Mediterranean, mint is treasured as a companion to lamb, and is often used in fruit and vegetable salads. Though there are many varieties, spearmint is preferred for cooking. You can add it to a bevy of dishes and drinks—lamb, peas, carrots, ice cream, tea, mint juleps, and mojitos. Spearmint's bright green leaves are fuzzy, very different from the darker stemmed, rounded leaves of peppermint.
Rosemary - In Latin, rosemary means "dew of the sea"—appropriate since it is indigenous to the Mediterranean. Rosemary is one of the most aromatic and pungent of all the herbs. Its needlelike leaves have pronounced lemon-pine flavor that pairs well with roasted lamb, garlic, and olive oil. Rosemary is also a nice addition to focaccia, tomato sauce, pizza, and pork, but because its flavor is strong, use a light hand.
Oregano - Oregano grows wild in the mountains of Italy and Greece; its Greek name means "joy of the mountain." The Greeks love oregano sprinkled on salads, while the Italians shower it on pizza and slip it into tomato sauces. Add chopped oregano to vinaigrette, or use it in poultry, game, or seafood dishes when you want to take them in a Greek or Italian direction. Oregano and marjoram are so similar in looks and flavor that they are often confused. Oregano, however, has a more potent taste and aroma; marjoram is sweeter and more delicate.
Thyme -Thyme comes in dozens of varieties; however, most cooks use French thyme. Undoubtedly thyme is one of the most important herbs of the European kitchen. What would a bouquet garni be without it? This congenial herb pairs well with many other herbs—especially rosemary, parsley, sage, savory, and oregano. Its earthiness is welcome with pork, lamb, duck, or goose, and it's much beloved in Cajun and Creole cooking. It's also the primary component of Caribbean jerk seasonings. Because the leaves are so small, they often don't require chopping.
Cilantro - Some call it cilantro; others call it coriander, or even Chinese parsley. Whatever you call it, chances are you either love it or hate it. This native of southern Europe and the Middle East has a pungent flavor, with a faint undertone of anise. The leaves are often mistaken for flat-leaf parsley, so read the tag. One of the most versatile herbs, cilantro adds distinctive flavor to salsas, soups, stews, curries, salads, vegetables, fish, and chicken dishes.
Parsley - No refrigerator should be without parsley. It's the workhorse of the herb world and can go in just about every dish you cook. Parsley's mild, grassy flavor allows the flavors of other ingredients to come through. Curly parsley is less assertive than its brother, flat-leaf parsley (often called Italian parsley). Flat-leaf parsley is preferred for cooking, as it stands up better to heat and has more flavor, while the more decorative curly parsley is used mostly for garnishing.
Chives - Toss chives into a dish at the last minute, because heat destroys their delicate onion flavor. Thinly slice them to maximize their taste, or use finely snipped chives as a garnish. Chives are great in dips and quesadillas, and on baked potatoes.