It’s February and according to the little fuzzy fellow we are in for another six more weeks of winter. However I don’t think we experienced the first six weeks of winter this season. I visited my herb garden today only to find more signs of spring. My rosemary is lush and green, there are green leaves on my thyme, and oregano is popping up! Since I have no control over our weather patterns I guess I will just be excited that I soon will have fresh home grown herbs on the table.

I am a huge fan of the word fresh. In the culinary world fresh is best. That being said, I am surprised how undervalued fresh herbs are to some home chefs. People think fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic but quickly grab dried basil or parsley. They are not the same as fresh! Now, I am not suggesting that you quickly go to your spice pantry and throw out your dried herbs, no I am not. I am merely hoping to create more awareness and help home chefs expand their use(s) of fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are easy to grow here in Colorado, they are inexpensive, they are packed full of nutrition and they can really turn up your home cooking. We all eat with our eyes first and fresh herbs not only greatly enhance the overall flavors of a dish, but visibly make a dish more desirable.

Let’s look at parsley. Flat leaf parsley is one of my favorites and is pretty much a universal herb. Parsley is an easy to grow herb. Once established it may return. If not, plant it again. I can assure you a parsley plant is a minimal investment compared to its overall benefits. If you don’t have an herb garden or a green thumb, no worries, parsley is available year round at the supermarket. Parsley is packed full of over 80 nutrients and can be used in almost any soup, salad, or entrée. I do recognize that it can be a bit of a pain to wash then chop and always have on hand so I have I want to share a tip that keeps fresh chopped parsley on hand all week.

Purchase one whole bunch organic parsley and wash well. Dry it the best you can. I love using flour sacks for this. I wrap the parsley up in the flour sack, then roll it up and squeeze the water out. Drier parsley is easier and less messy to chop. Trim off most of the stems to the point where leafs begin to grow. (Save the stems for stock or another use). Run your chef’s knife through the parsley, rocking back in forth until you have minced all the parsley. (You can go as small as you want here…) Once the parsley is minced place it on a small section of cheesecloth and wrap up. Twist the cheesecloth tightly to secure the parsley then run the bundle under cold water in the sink.  While the water is running, squeeze the bundle of parsley continually. The water will be green from the parsley then turn clear.  Once the water is almost clear you are done. Squeeze well to get rid of excess moisture. Keep the parsley in the cheese cloth bundle in your fridge and sprinkle on anything from morning eggs, salads, soups, to dinner! Not only will your plates visually be brighter and tastier but you will little by little be gaining numerous health benefits!

This technique does not work for more delicate herbs like basil. Once fresh basil is chopped it begins to oxidize immediately turning its delicate leaves brown. Fresh basil should be minimally chopped and prepped right before service. However, other popular herbs like oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, cilantro and tarragon are easier to manage.

As spring approaches and we begin to crave fresh greens get creative and explore the different uses and varieties of herbs. Be sure to smell and taste them before using and begin with small amounts at first.

A general rule to follow when using herbs is to use dried herbs in the beginning of a dish and fresh herbs at the end. Dried herbs need heat and moisture to blossom and fresh herbs are best used with minimal cooking time to ensure their delicate flavors don’t get lost.

Here is a quick guide of common herbs and their pairings to get you started:

Fresh Basil – Italian, Mediterranean and Thai cuisine.  Including tomatoes, bell peppers, cheeses, lemon, garlic, watermelon, squashes, eggplant, salads, dressings, soups, eggs, chicken, lamb and fish.
Fresh Cilantro – Asian, Indian, Mexican and Thai cuisine.  Avocados, peppers, coconut, garlic, ginger, limes, mint, tomatoes, yogurt, chicken, fish, and pork.
Fresh Dill  – German, Greek, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Russian, Scandinavian, and Turkish cuisine.  Beets, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, eggs, parsley, pickles, potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, beef, fish, and shellfish.
Fresh Oregano – Greek, Italian, and Mexican cuisine.  Basil, beans, bell peppers eggs, eggplant, garlic, lemon, mushrooms, olives, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, beef, chicken, fish, and pork.
Fresh Rosemary – French, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisine.  Beans, bell peppers, breads, cabbage, eggs, eggplant, garlic, lavender, lemons, beef, chicken, duck, fish, rabbit, and lamb.
Fresh Sage – European cuisine.  Apples, asparagus, beans, breads, cheeses, cherries, eggplant, garlic, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes, rosemary, sausages, squash, thyme, tomatoes, chicken, duck, game birds, goose, pork and fish.
Fresh Tarragon – French cuisine.  Beets, carrots, cheeses, chives, eggs, fennel, grapefruit, lemons, limes, melons, mushrooms, parsley, potatoes, chicken, fish, lobster, pork and rabbit.
Fresh Thyme – French, Italian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Bay leaves, beans, carrots, cheese, chives, corn, eggplant, lemons, mushrooms, onions, oregano, parsley, potatoes rosemary, tomatoes, chicken, fish, lamb, and pork.






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