Give Your Dishes a Braver Flavor

Do your daily dinners taste drab? Why not spice things up a bit with herbs. The thought of using herbs may intimidate folks because they may not know what they are or how to use them.

According a fact sheet from Ohio State University, culinary herbs’ fresh or dried leaves are used in cooking and are different from spices. Generally, culinary herbs are fresh or dried leaves while spices are seeds, roots, fruits, flowers and bark. Culinary herbs usually have a mild flavor while spices tend to have a stronger, pungent flavor. Several common spices are cinnamon, aniseeds and gingerroot. Popular herbs grown in Ohio include basil variations, chives, dill, French tarragon, mints, oregano, rosemary and thyme.

Dry vs. Fresh
Technically, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh and vice versa. Use about one-third the amount of dried herb as you would use of fresh. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of fresh dill, use 1/3 cup of dried dill. Fresh herbs will give your dishes more flavor, but if you only use herbs once in a while, dried may be more practical.

Buying, Storing, Using
Start by developing an herb shopping list and know what you’re looking for. You might want the sweet, warm flavor of basil to add to your pasta dishes, soups or salads. Dill seeds and leaves are flavorful. Its leaves may be used as a garnish or cooked with fish, soup, dressings, potatoes and beans. Oregano has a strong, aromatic odor. It can be used whole or ground in tomato juice, fish, eggs, pizza, omelets, chili, stew, gravy, poultry and vegetables. Rosemary is very aromatic. It can be used fresh or dried. Use it to season fish, stuffing, beef, lamb, poultry, onions, eggs, bread and potatoes, and it is often used in dressings. Thyme leaves can be sprinkled on fish or poultry before broiling or baking.

But before you run out to the grocery store, check around. Fresh herbs may be much less expensive at your local farmers’ market. Only buy what you can use. Fresh herbs should be kept in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, but it will not be long before they wilt. If you prefer fresh herbs, you could always grow your own. Many grocery stores or greenhouses sell live plants; basil, chives and rosemary are common. With a staple like basil, you can’t go wrong by growing your own, and most herbs are hardy plants.

Once you’ve got your herbs home, take time to find the right storage space. Dried herbs don’t like light, air or moisture, so be sure they’re well-sealed and store them in a cool, dark, dry place.

Now that you’re ready to cook, try adding some zest to your favorite dishes. Herbs will certainly wake up your palette.