During an out of state trip, I recently visited a friend who has been low carbing longer than I have.. (she looks terrific, by the way!) She's a great cook and shortly before I left, she mentioned the secret's in using all the right herbs.
Okay, I'm a big kitchen dummy and spices mean those little mixes in jars from the market. She was using fresh ones. Some of them, she'd dried herself. But it was all greek to me. Do you have some pointers on how to use herbs and which ones are best when cooking low carb?
Your friend has clearly mastered the art (and many believe it really is an "art") of great cooking with herbs. They are not as mysterious or hard to work with as you might think...
Herbs transform an otherwise ordinary dish into something special! The aromatic leaves, stems, and fragrances of fresh kitchen herbs make them a delight to use and to taste.
Herbs are vigorous garden plants; they can survive a drought, and they love heat. Growing your own herb garden takes very little space and very little time, but results in a large harvest of satisfaction and flavor.
People who avoid overt food ingredients like sugar, honey, or even an excess of salt will love the extra bursts of flavors that fresh herbs can add to foods, so they are a big boon to the low-carb cook.
Some herbs have dominant flavors and can add a great deal of unique taste on their own, or they can be used in combination with more mild herbs.
Conversely, the milder herbs can be enjoyed alone for their own delicate flavors, or can be blended for more vibrant combinations!
The strong herbs are rosemary, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and sage; go sparingly, as they contribute quite a bit of flavor to a dish.
Medium-flavored herbs are basil, dill, mint, and fennel; use them more generously.
Use delicate herbs like parsley and chives in abundance.
Dried herbs have their value in the kitchen as well, but vary noticeably in flavor from their fresh form. So experiment with both to see which you prefer.
Because there are so many herbs and of course, so many combinations, feel free to be an experimenter to discover your own and your familys' favorites. One of the many bonuses you get when cooking with herbs is that you decide which ones to use and how much!
Buying and Storing Herbs:
Look for fresh herbs in the produce departments of most major grocery stores or natural food stores. They can be purchased in bulk form or in small packages. Keep the herbs in their original packaging until ready to use. Store fresh herbs in the hydrator of your refrigerator, and use as quickly as possible. Do not wash until ready to use!
Tightly sealed dried herbs will store well in your pantry for up to six months. After six months, their color begins to change and they begin to lose their color.
Cooking With Herbs:
The flavor of fresh herbs is more subtle than that of dried herbs, so you'll need to use approximately three times the quantity of fresh than you would dried. Just before using, rinse herbs lightly, and pat dry gently. Strip small leaves from tough stems. Snipping, chopping, or mincing fresh herbs releases their flavor.
Dried herbs have a stronger, more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs. A general rule of thumb to follow is: use one third as many dried herbs as fresh herbs, e.g. 1 tablespoon fresh basil = 1 teaspoon dried basil.
When using dried herbs, measure the amount you want, then crush them in the palm of your hand to release the flavor. Add dried herbs early in the cooking process; they need some cooking time in order to completely release their flavors.
Commonly Used Herbs:
There are so many herbs from which to choose that we could not possibly list all here. Below are brief descriptions of the most commonly used herbs; however, don't limit yourself to trying only the ones listed here. Experiment and enjoy!
Basil: One of the easiest herbs to grow, basil has a heady fragrance and a faint licorice flavor. Use it in salads, pesto, pizza, meat and poultry dishes.
Bay leaves: Use fresh or dried bay leaves in soups, stews, vegetables, and bouquet garnish. Discard bay leaves before serving food.
Chervil: A fragile herb, chervil is commonly known as French parsley. It has a subtle anise flavor and is best fresh or cooked only briefly. Add chervil to egg dishes, soups, and salads or use it as a substitute for parsley.
Chives: Chives are attractive, rugged herbs that are easy to grow. Snip the leaves and they'll provide a mild onion or garlic flavor to soups, salads, and vegetable dishes.
Cilantro: Also known as Chinese parsley, cilantro is grown for its spicy-flavored foliage and for its seeds called coriander. Cilantro is the leaf; coriander is the seed or powder; the two are not interchangeable in recipes. Slightly bruise a cilantro leaf and it will give off an unmistakable pungent peppery fragrance. Use the leaves in Southwestern, Mexican, and Asian dishes. Cumin and mint are seasonings often paired with cilantro. Coriander seeds are used in Indian dishes, as well as pickles and relishes.
Dill: Finely chop feathery fresh dill foliage for shrimp dishes, eggs, soups, and sauces. Dill makes a good salt substitute. You can harvest and dry dill seeds and use them in pickles, breads, and salad dressings.
Lemon Verbena: The strongest scented lemon herb, lemon verbena has a healthy lemony essence. Use it as you would lemon balm leaves.
Mint: Add this common herb to lamb, poultry, salads, sauces, teas, and punches. Try cooking with flavorful types of mint like peppermint, orange mint, apple mint, or chocolate mint.
Oregano: These small green leaves produce strong flavor. Greek oregano is the most popular oregano for cooking because of its strong flavor and aromatic leaves. Add oregano to Italian dishes, meat, fish, eggs, fresh and cooked tomatoes, vegetables, and marinades. (Learn all you need to know to grow your own oregano.)
Rosemary: Unlike other herbs, rosemary has a stronger flavor when fresh than when dried. It's a hardy herb with a piney scent and flavor. To harvest rosemary, strip leaves from the stem. Use the strong-flavored leaves sparingly. Rosemary adds a wonderful accent to soups, meats, stews, breads, and vegetables.
Sage: This hardy herb is best known for use in holiday dressing. Sage is often paired with sausage, too. And it's soft texture lends well to tucking under the skin of poultry before roasting.
Tarragon: This tender herb plays a classic role in Bearnaise sauce. It also adds flavor to soups, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and egg dishes. It's used often to make herb butter or vinegar. Its leaves have a bittersweet, peppery scent with a hint of anise.
Thyme: Strip the tiny leaves from woody stems just before using. Use fresh thyme in marinades for basting seafood, chicken, or pork. Add thyme to mayonnaise for sandwiches or to meat stews, or vegetables.
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