We're covering some of the best ways to cook with fresh herbs. Basil, oregano, thyme, chives, mint are all in season right now and there are dozens of delicous recipes that benefit from tons of fresh herbs. Starting with simple herb pesto that freezes well to use your herbs before they wilt. So get out your herb scissors, and let's get cooking!
Produce of the Week: Fresh Herbs
We rely on dried spices and herbs in almost all of our recipes. It could be ground cinnamon in a warming fall dessert like Apple Walnut Cake with Cinnamon Sugar Glaze. Or zesty za'atar in Crispy Chickpeas. Herbs and spices are a cook's best friend.
And while we keep our dried spice cabinet stocked all year long, there's something special about this time of year. Our planters are exploding with lush fresh herbs that pair well with all the summer food on our plates. They're so easy to grow that we opt for a wide variety. Then there's nothing better than heading out to the patio with a colander to snip loads of whatever herb works best in your dinner recipe. Everything tastes as fresh as possible. And there's no plastic clamshells or wilting old herbs to worry about.
We're seriously spoiled with so many herb options on hand these days. We love mixing and matching herbs in various dishes. If we call for basil in one dish, why not mix things up with oregano? Or both? If we're making a broth, like for our Coconut Corn Chowder, we toss a bouquet garni of assorted herbs in with the corn cobs.
Here's what in our kitchen garden this year:
This is a classic fresh herb. If you're new to growing your own herbs, basil is a great place to start. You can buy small basil plants right in the grocery store pretty often. Then, they just need a pot or garden bed. The plants enjoy a fair bit of direct sunlight. And if they're in a pot, simply water them when the soil gets dry. If they're outside, rain alone should take care of it.
Basil has so many wonderful flavor pairings. Some of the classics include:
- Tomatoes, like in this Grilled Peach Caprese Salad
- Summer fruits, as in Strawberry Watermelon Basil Gazpacho
- Even sweet breakfasts, like Peach Basil Coconut Yogurt
Basil, like many common fresh herbs, is a bit part of Italian cuisine. However, it actually originates in India and can be found in plenty of delicous Indian recipes. Including this Creamy Cauliflower Curry with Basil from Holy Cow.
Fresh oregano from the garden is, to me, the most different from what you can buy in the store. Store-bought oregano tends to be small and even a little bitter sometimes. Fresh from the plant, the leaves can be huge! They're also super fragrant. Here are some of our favorite ways to cook with fresh oregano:
- Summer Vegetable and Wild Rice Salad. This vegan recipe lends itself to all kinds of fresh herbs, but a pleasant bite of oregano mixed in is unexpected and delicous.
- Garnish a darling Blackberry Cucumber Cocktail with a fresh, herbal sprig of oregano.
- Get the full oregano flavor from this easy Oregano Pesto from Healthy Slow Cooking.
Fresh thyme has such a delightful herbal scent and flavor. It's hearty enough to add to a long-simmering stew. Yet removed from the stem, the tender leaves are delicous fresh and raw on a salad or other light meal.
We have to cover the elephant in the room, however. No one likes picking off those pesky thyme leaves. Yet the woody stem is downright inedible. While there's no silver bullet for this unfortunate kitchen task, there is one handy tool. This herb stripper can remove the delicate leaves from rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, etc. It might make a nice gift for the fresh herb lover in your life 🙂
Here's how we're cooking with the fresh thyme from our garden this year:
- We're smothering our gluten free blueberry cornbread in homemade honey thyme compound butter.
- Give these Crispy Smashed Potatoes a heavy sprinkle of fresh thyme. They make a crowd-pleasing appetizer or side dish that won't last long!
- This simple Lemon Garlic and Thyme Pasta from the Vegan 8. Classic flavors create a dish that really celebrates fresh thyme.
- Savory Wild Mushroom Toast is a fantastic meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
We use fresh cilantro all year long. It provides brightness to dishes from around the world. Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern and American recipes all celebrate fresh cilantro. In the summer, we're guilty of dressing most of our meals with a crunchy garnish of the herb. But here are some of our favorite ways to cook with fresh cilantro:
- This Herby Whipped Tofu Dip is creamy, light, fluffy and happens to be naturally vegan. It's delicious with crackers or crunchy veggies.
- On the Mexican side, Shiitake & Sweet Potato Tacos with Cilantro Avocado Cashew Cream. These are a major upgrade to your next taco night.
- And traveling to Asia, we have zesty Soba Noodle Salad with Citrus Scallion Dressing. These noodles are a fun vegan meal prep recipe. Just keep the fresh herbs separate until right before eating.
- And moving to India, these Indian Spiced Veggie Burgers are a wonderful vegan dinner recipe with plenty of fresh herbs.
Food Waste Tip: Make Fresh Herb Pesto
The second elephant in the room to discuss when it comes to herbs is the unfortunate reality of wilt. Yes, herbs are lush and plump and green growing in their happy soil. Pick them. Half and hour later, you may not recognize the sad, wrinkled leaves on your counter. There are a few simple ways to store your fresh herbs and recipes to preserve them.
First, immediately after picking or buying any fresh herbs, give them a drink. If they're loose leaves, submerge them in a bowl of cool water. You can leave them in there until you're ready to eat. If they have long stems, then treat them like any bouquet. Fill a glass or vase with cool water and stick 'em in.
Looking to store your fresh herbs for longer than a few hours? Simply store them in an airtight bag (we like reusable silicone bags). Add a damp paper towel to your herb bag to keep things super fresh. This way, the herbs will last for several days without wilting.
If you happen to find yourself in the happy circumstance of having too many fresh herbs on hand, we've got the recipe for you. No matter what herbs you have, you can whip them into a delicous and simple herb pesto.
Here's how to blend up a simple fresh herb pesto:
- In a food processor, combine 2 packed cups of your favorite fresh herbs. You can use any combination of basil, oregano, thyme, mint, cilantro, chives, rosemary, etc.
- Add two cloves of garlic, a heavy pinch of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Pulse to start breaking down the herbs and garlic.
- With the motor running, drizzle in ¼ cup of high-quality olive oil. You may need to add more, continuing to blend until the pesto is smooth and fluid.
No two herb pestos are the same, thanks to the variety of herbs you may toss in there. But I've personally never tasted one I didn't like! And they're so useful in the kitchen.
You can add a dollop to fresh cooked pasta. Or smear some on toast with a fried egg for a breakfast upgrade. Stir some into yogurt (vegan or regular) for a simple herb spread or dip. Or does any proteins with herb pesto for a yummy dressing or marinade.
And the best part about this easy fresh herb pesto? It freezes! You can make a big batch and divide it into smaller airtight containers. To avoid any browning as the herbs freeze, add a thin layer of olive oil to the top of each container. This creates a barrier that keeps the cold air away from your delicate herbs. Then pop the containers into the freezer and you'll have summery herb pesto all year long.
To defrost, let the container sit on the counter for a few hours. If you're in a rush, you can run it under hot tap water.
Current Event: Amazon Fires
This week's topic is not directly realted to food, but it's a very close tangent. The Amazon rainforest is blazing. At the peak, there were over 9,500 fires burning in the largest rainforest in the world. The Amazon is a vital part of the world's carbon reserve. Not to mention the homes and hundreds of indigenous animals and plants that call the forest and its surroundings home. Even Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, miles from the actual fire, went dark with smoke during the day on Tuesday.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is being widely criticized for encouraging the deforestation and development of the rainforest. Of course, he's not along. Forest fires are largely man-made, and there are dozens of farmers and others whose impact in the forest is not well monitored. And at the end of the day, there's little point to casting blame from thousands of miles away. There are, however, things that can be done to support controlling these ravaging fires.
- Donating to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Emergency Appeal supports teams on the ground. They aid communities and governments to fight the fires.
- Eating less beef. Amazon cattle contribute to nearly 80% of the deforestation in the rainforest, according to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
- Sign a Greenpeace petition to send a message to Bolsonaro's government: save the forest!
- Learn about and buy rainforest-safe products with the Rainforest Alliance seal.
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