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A collection of fresh herbs

If you tend to think of fresh herbs as just pretty food toppings, it’s time to reconsider their role in your cooking. When used as a key ingredient, they add a bright taste and lively aroma that can transform everyday foods into enticing new dishes. 

But fresh herbs bring more than a vivid pop of flavor to your plate. For thousands of years, herbs have been prized for their therapeutic and medicinal properties. They’re also highly concentrated packets of nutrition. Mint, basil, parsley, and chives (to name just a few) contain essential vitamins, as well as polyphenols — antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that have been shown to help protect against cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses. 

While dried herbs are typically used during the cooking process itself — their flavors permeate the whole dish, as with a long-simmering soup or stew — fresh herbs shine when they finish a cooked recipe. They add a savory note to grilled or roasted meats and veggies, and they can also take on a starring role in salads and brightly flavored sauces. 

Many-Herb Drizzle  

Herb Drizzle

Makes 2/3 cup | Prep time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tightly packed chopped flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed chopped mint leaves 
  • 2 tbs. chopped chives
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended. For a thinner drizzle, add 1 tablespoon water.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Basil-Almond Pesto

Herb Drizzle

Makes 2/3 cup | Prep time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tightly packed chopped basil leaves 
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended. For a thinner pesto, add 1 tablespoon water and briefly process again.
  2. Taste; you may want to add another squeeze of lemon juice or pinch of salt.
  3. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Tip: These sauces go well with veggies of all kinds, as well as grains, beans, and grilled or roasted meats and fish. They can also serve as a flavorful topper for soups.

Walnut, Date, and Herb Salad With Chive Oil

Walnut Date Herb Salad

Makes 4 servings | Prep time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 cups tightly packed arugula or mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped mint leaves 
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 4 oz. chèvre or other soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chive oil

Directions

  1. Place the arugula, parsley, and mint in a bowl and toss to combine.
  2. Add the walnuts, dates, and chèvre, toss with the lemon juice and chive oil, and serve. 

For the Chive Oil

Makes 1/2 cup | Prep time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Tip: A member of the allium family (along with onions and garlic), chives contain allicin, a compound with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.

Tip: If you’re an herb lover, don’t hold back! Basil, chervil, dill, and tarragon are all tasty additions to this salad.

Watermelon Salad With Mint and Cilantro

Watermelon Salad With Mint

Makes 4 servings | Prep time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cubed watermelon 
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tbs. chopped mint leaves 
  • 2 tbs. chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt or fleur de sel
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese 
  • 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds, toasted 

Directions

  1. Combine watermelon, tomatoes, mint, cilantro, lime juice and zest, olive oil, and black pepper in a bowl, and toss lightly with a fork.
  2. Stir in salt just before serving, and top with feta and pumpkin seeds. 

Herb-Infused Cauliflower Rice

Herb infused cauliflower

Makes 6 servings | Prep time 15 to 20 minutes | Cook time 5 to 6 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb. cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-in. florets
  • 6 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup tightly packed chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed chopped mint leaves

Directions

  1. Place the cauliflower florets in a steamer basket and steam until just tender-crisp, five to six minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. 
  2. Place the cooked cauliflower in a food processor and pulse about 15 times, until the texture is fine, with pieces about the size of rice grains.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add the cauliflower and toss well to coat. Taste, and adjust with a couple of pinches of salt, if needed. 
  4. When the cauliflower has completely cooled, fold in the parsley and mint. Serve at room temperature. 

Herb-Infused Olive Oil

Herb-infused oils are as beautiful as they are fragrant. This recipe makes a very small amount — enough to use in a day or two — which is important, because homemade oils like this one don’t keep as long as commercially prepared oils. Drizzle over vegetables or grains and enjoy their subtle, aromatic quality.

Herb infused olive oil

Makes 1/2 cup | Prep time 5 minutes, plus time for oil to cool | Cook time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh organic herbs (choose one variety; wash and dry completely before using):
  • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs (about 4 inches long)
  • 8 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 10 fresh oregano sprigs

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, combine the olive oil and herbs. On a burner set to low, heat for about five minutes, until a thermometer reaches 180 degrees F.
  2. Remove the pan from the stove and allow the oil to reach room temperature.
  3. Transfer the sprigs to a sterilized bottle or jar, then add the oil.
  4. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dark place for a few days, or refrigerate for up to a month.

This originally appeared as Cooking With Fresh Herbs in the September 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

Helpful Hints for Herb Storage

Select herbs that are bright and perky, and avoid wilted or yellow leaves. For storage (see below), first note whether your herbs are soft-stemmed (with tender stems like basil, parsley, and mint) or hard-stemmed (with tougher, woody stems like rosemary and thyme).

To store soft-stemmed herbs: Rinse in cool water and allow to dry, then store like fresh flowers: Trim and place the bunch in a jar with enough water to cover stems. With the exception of basil, which does best at room temperature, store herbs in the refrigerator; in both cases, cover loosely with a plastic bag to help keep the leaves from drying out or wilting. Change the water every few days.

To store hard-stemmed herbs: Rinse in cool water and allow to dry, then wrap loosely with a damp paper towel. Store in a resealable bag in the refrigerator.

August 2018 In-Article Subscribe Ad

Photography by: Andrea D'Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Rebecca
Rebecca Katz

Rebecca Katz is the director of the Healing Kitchens Institute at Commonweal, and the author of several cookbooks, including The Healthy Mind Cookbook and The Longevity Kitchen, from which some of these recipes are adapted. She lives in San Rafael, Calif.

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