Herb Tips & Flavor Principles
OK, these are my notes taken from personal experience as
to how to effectively use herbs and in what combination to perfectly accompany the
featured dish. I grow my own herbs, however, this will work for purchased herbs as well.
There are many types of herbs, as we all know, however,
only a few find their way into our dishes. This is unfortunate, as mixing herbs, and
trying new herbs in our everyday cooking is very cool! and gives a new twist on the dish
we are creating.
First, be sure the herbs you are going to prepare for storage are fresh as can be. Rinse
them well (dirt, little bugs, and sticky candy pieces, left by little fingers in the
grocery store, may remain in them). Blot dry and set aside.
Second, select those you will be freezing or drying or keeping fresh in the refrigerator
and set aside on pieces of waxed paper or paper towels (continues to absorb the moisture).
For the freezer herbs, you will want to remove all stems and chop either coarsely or
finely, depending on your preference. For the ones to be dried, dry them whole. If you
want to keep some types fresh for cooking, leave them whole also. These will only last
about one week in the refrigerator.
Third, if freezing the herbs, pack either in small, zip-lock FREEZER bags, or puree with
the blender, adding a small amount of water, and pour the mixture into ice cube trays.
This is very handy with pesto, oregano, parsley, cilantro. Try experimenting with other
herbs. You can also freeze herbs whole, packing in freezer bags, pull out what you need
and crumble into the food.
Fourth, if drying the herbs, you can either place the clean, un-chopped herbs on a paper towel and dry in the microwave for about two minutes (or hang
in a dry, warm place to dry naturally). They will be hot when you remove them from the
microwave. Let the herbs lie, undisturbed, until cool. Then you can either put them into a
paper bag, or plastic bag, and crush and crumble until the dried leaves of the herbs
separate fully from the stems. Discard the stems. Put these dried herbs into empty
seasoning bottles you have collected (with those little sprinkler tops attached). At this
point, you can mix and match herbs. I mix thyme, oregano, cilantro and some salt, making
an all-purpose seasoning which is great on all kinds of foods! I also mix dried green
onions (the green parts) with thyme and garlic powder for a delicious, smoky flavored
seasoning! Be creative here. You will love these herbs! Be sure and not keep them too
long, though, as anything kept over one year, loses its volatile flavors. These make
Last, if you want to use fresh herbs during winter or if you do not grow them, place
whole herbs with stems into a jar of water, shallow water, and place in the refrigerator.
Then just use as you need them. You can also place this jar of herbs in water on your
window sill and you may be surprised, as some will root (thyme, oregano, green onions)! Be
sure to rinse out and replace with fresh water daily. Then just cut as needed.
Other great hints: pack whole or chopped garlic cloves in olive oil, sealed tightly in a
jar. Use as needed. Wonderful! You can also add herbs to this, thyme, oregano, dill, chili
flakes for heat, whatever you like!
One of the most helpful cookbooks I have ever read is called "The Flavor
Principle" cookbook, 1973, by Elizabeth Rozin. This has guided me all my years,
helping me to produce great dishes, and giving me the courage to create new combinations!
Sometimes it takes just a slight adjustment of seasonings to create a new dish.
As you are probably aware, herbs commonly used by specific cultures or geographic
locations are like signatures. As in Greek or Italian cooking, specific herbs are
frequently used in different flavor combinations for each cuisine. Mexican cuisine,
French, and Asian also have their own specific herbs and flavors. For example:
Greek & Middle Eastern Cuisine
This employees the olive oil-tomato+cinnamon principle
This employees the olive oil-tomato+garlic principle
These flavor principles immediately set aside the ethnic signature of each cuisine and are
characteristic of each. Knowing flavor principles allows you to mix and match with
confidence and experiment in fun!
A flavor principle is a taste resulting from the mixture of several flavoring ingredients
used together frequently and consistently. This is not true for every dish, but does
account for those that can be recognized by taste of the reasonable cook. Using principles
like this will result in novelty, variety and authenticity.
The following are some other combinations that always work:
Soy Sauce+garlic-brown sugar-sesame seeds
Anyway, you get the idea! And with herbs, rosemary and olive oil are
great together (ever try small potatoes rubbed with olive oil and rosemary, then baked?);
thyme and cilantro work together, as do oregano and thyme. Sage is very powerful, use
sparingly for just a hint of its great flavor! Mixed with thyme and oregano, very
effective for meat sauces. Once you hit on your own favorite herb mixtures, they will
serve as your 'signature' seasoning!
Sometimes I make this great pasta. I toss in fresh, chopped veggies into a
small amount of heated olive oil, add chopped fresh garlic (lots!), a small bit of
slivered onions, some grated ginger, salt, pepper to taste, and chili flakes (just a
few!). Sauté quickly, stirring now and then. At the end of the sauté time, I add
fresh or dried cilantro, dill, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Add bits of fresh tomato
canned tomato bits for color. Then I add hot pasta of any shape or color, toss, sprinkle
with parmesan or Romano cheese, and serve hot. Boy is this good! Simple, healthy, and
Once you experiment, and understand what works and doesn't work, then you will be able to
go on and be creative, to everyone's delight! Bon Appétit!