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I love this time of the year. The farmers market and my kitchen garden are both bursting with fresh herbs. There are a few things to consider when cooking fresh herbs instead of dried ones. You will actually use a larger amount of fresh herbs. Even though the oils are fresher, they are not as concentrated as they are once the herbs are dried. In fact, you would need 3 teaspoons of fresh herbs to substitute in a recipe that called for 1 teaspoon of dried.


cooking_with_herbsThis year make sure to try a few herbs that you may not use much like marjoram, tarragon, epizote, lavender, or even lemon verbena. You may find that some herbs help your health as much as your taste buds. For instance, epizote cooked with beans helps you digest the beans easier. It’s been used in Mexican cuisines for centuries.

Unexpected Substitutions

There are a few herbs that can take the place of a staple ingredient that you would normally use. Lovage is a large leafy herb that has the same flavor as celery. Just use a sprig minced instead of a stalk of celery. You can also use cutting celery to do the same thing. This is my first year growing both and I love the fact I don’t have to buy a bunch of celery anymore to get 1 stalk. In both cutting celery and lovage, the steam has a stronger flavor of celery than a celery stalk, so start with less than you expect to use.

Lemon herbs like lemon verbena, lemon balm, or even lemon basil can be used to give a burst of lemon flavor to your dishes. It will not the same acidity that real lemon juice would, so you should adjust for that if you are replacing lemon juice in a recipe.

Chives can be used in place of green onions, and garlic chives can provide a light garlic flavor to your dish as well. Try basil in recipes that call for mint and mint in places that call for basil. It opened my mind to mix sweet and savory tastes together more. Chives, basil, and mint can all be grown on a sunny window sill for you to harvest from all winter too!


Pesto
I love eating pesto all year long. In the winter you can use spinach and parsley to make pesto, or you can thaw out some traditional basil pesto that you froze during the peak of basil season. Traditional pesto consists of fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. You can use many different combinations of herbs depending on what is freshest and most plentiful.


Try a few new pesto combinations this year. I like pistachio blended with arugula or a mixture of oregano, mint and a little citrus zest. You can change the flavor by changing the nut or oil you use as well. Pecans add an almost smoky flavor and pairs well with basil, arugula, or marjoram.

Herbed Butter

It’s a really special treat to be served herbed butter with rolls right out of the oven. It’s super easy too. Just soften the butter to room temperature and mix in minced herbs. If you can get some edible flowers like nasturtium, calendula, or violets add them in too. Make sure you are getting these from an organic garden and not the florists! You do not want pesticides mixed in your beautiful butter.



Baked Goods

Surprise your friends with a sweet herbal treat. It adds an interesting touch to afternoon tea or brunch.

Drinks
I don’t want to leave out the amazing value of herbs in drinks. You can make a nice drink for your kids by pureeing some juicy fresh peaches with some lemon balm and a sprig of lemon or lime basil. It’s a low sugar favorite. Make your own simple syrup by heating a mixture of 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar or other sweetener. When you take it off the heat try adding fresh rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, or lavender. Let it steep until the syrup cools and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

Cooking with herbs can be a great way to breathe new life into your culinary creativity. If you aren’t already growing herbs this year, you should try to plant a few small pots next year. There are more kinds of basil and mint than you can ever get in the store. To get more ideas on cooking with herbs check out the Weekend Herb Blogging Event each week.

 

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