How to Keep Fresh Herbs in Your Kitchen—Plus 4 Ways to Prepare Them
Like clockwork, it happens every year. The weather finally warms up in March, and I'm planting basil, tending to the scrappy mint and tarragon, and nursing volunteer seedlings. I'm a semi-negligent gardener, but come July, things are looking bushy and healthy. Midsummer is when I'm feeling blessed by my homegrown bounty. But what to do with nature's generosity? I can't let my hard-earned herbs go to waste.
The farmers market only complicates matters. Perky parsley, delicate bunches of cilantro with roots intact, and fresh-snipped bundles of mint, thyme, and savory beckon. I'm drawn to the showy displays and load up my tote.
RELATED: 11 Herbs Every Cook Should Use
Overbuying and overplanting are inevitable, but consuming a plethora of herbs is in my blood. Raised on mostly Vietnamese food, I learned to treat herbs like raw leafy green vegetables, chopping handfuls for composed salads, pinching leaves off their stems to drop into hot soups, and tucking them into lettuce and rice paper wraps as well as sandwiches. The aromatic leaves are more than mere garnishes—they contribute vibrant flavor, color, and texture to dishes.
My father loved to remind us that mint was great for digestion and lemongrass tea was a powerful detoxifying diuretic, but we didn't focus on the health benefits of herbs. We just knew that they completed our meals. Consequently, I learned to never waste herbs.
Herb Prep 101: Size Matters
When you’re working with fresh herbs, how you serve them varies with the dish and the herb. Here are four common prep methods and when to use them.
This cut releases the herb’s oils into foods faster, dissipating the punch of flavor. Hence, finely chopped cilantro in pico de gallo.
This preparation allows herbs to stand out, preserving the integrity of their flavors. Perfect for showering over a just-baked pizza.
For an elegant look with prominent flavor, stack broad-leaf herbs like basil and mint, cut into thin strips, and sprinkle over soups.
Torn or Ripped
For a casual look, gently tear soft leaved herbs such as basil, dill, and cilantro for an ethereal yet robust addition to salads.
Try this Herb-Scented Rice Salad Recipe
Every summer, I revisit this refreshing Malaysian salad called nasi ulam. It’s an elastic classic, so tinker to create your own twists. The salad tastes good up to 5 hours after you’ve combined all the ingredients, so it’s a nice party or potluck dish. You can easily double, triple, or quadruple it, too.