Garden Dirt

Cooking with Herbs 101

Growing herbs in planting beds or pots makes preparing tasty dishes for your family even easier. Read tips on how to get started here!

Basil is traditional for pesto, but try other pestos too.

By Ray Greenstreet

Alexandria, VA – Savoring garden-fresh flavors is a key part of summertime living. Growing herbs in planting beds or pots makes preparing tasty dishes for your family even easier. And the more you harvest herbs, the more herbs you’ll have to harvest.

Herbs give a super return on investment. For the price of one bunch of herbs at the grocery store, you can buy a plant that will yield multiple harvests all season long. You can even preserve the harvest to enjoy those sun-ripened flavors in winter. Try a few of our favorite ways to enjoy herbs in the kitchen or on the grill!

In the Kitchen

Cooking with herbs is easy when you grow some in pots near the kitchen. For herb gardens located away from the kitchen, gather stems before cooking, slipping them into a jar or vase. Herbal bouquets offer fragrance and flavor for the dinner table. Family or guests can even snip favorite herbs from a bouquet to season their food.

Chop herbs into egg dishes, or add to yeast breads or to flatbreads like focaccia. Whip up traditional basil pesto, but also try other pestos, such as cilantro or sage. Pesto freezes well. Reduce the amount of oil as you create the pesto, freeze it, and then add oil to the thawed product to achieve the consistency you want.

Julienne basil to serve over tomatoes with olive oil, pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Or blend it with cider vinegar, a dab of sugar, chopped red onion, and freshly cooked corn cut from the cob to make a tasty salad.

Create herb oils or vinegars to enhance other dishes. Herb butters are easy to make and offer an elegant addition to mealtime menus. Use about four tablespoons of chopped, fresh herb to ½ cup of soft butter. Blend the two, then roll the butter into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill.

Sage not just for stuffing. It’s flavor comes through in baked goods like tea cakes too.

As you set your sights on cooking with herbs, try nontraditional and creative recipes such as lavender ice cream, pineapple sage tea cakes, or rosemary lemonade. Add edible chive flowers to potato salad for an oniony surprise.

On the Grill

Herbs and grilling go hand in hand. Chop a favorite herb, such as basil, tarragon, rosemary, or sage, into marinades to flavor meat. Grind herbs to form a rub. Apply to the meat and let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour before grilling.

Use woody-stemmed herbs, like rosemary, oregano, or thyme, to season baked potatoes. Push a skewer through an uncooked potato, enlarging the hole slightly. Stuff herb stems into the hole, pushing them into the potato using the skewer. Wrap in foil and bake.

Take corn on the cob to a new level by creating herb brushes to coat cobs with butter. Cut 3- to 6-inch herb stems, strip lower leaves, gather stems into a bundle, insert a short skewer, and tie it all together using a piece of twine or string. Then, dip herb brushes into melted butter and coat the corn. You can also use these brushes for basting meat.

Toss thyme sprigs onto the coals and close your grill or smoker so the herb smoke flavors the meat.

When grilling with charcoal or using a smoker, toss woody stems of basil, rosemary, or thyme onto coals, close the grill, allow the herb smoke to flavor meat, and voila! You now have an aromatic and delicious meal before you. Don’t forget to add a refreshing beverage and enjoy the bounty of your herb garden!

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