HERB TIPS & FLAVOR PRINCIPLES
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 place the clean herbs on a paper towel and dry them 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 wonderful gifts!!
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. Be sure to rinse out and replace with fresh water daily. 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)! Another great way: pack whole or chopped garlic cloves in olive oil, sealed tightly in a jar. You can also add herbs to this, like thyme, oregano, dill, chili flakes for heat, whatever you like! Use as needed. Wonderful!
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 employs the olive oil-tomato+cinnamon principle.
This employs 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! 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 or 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. Is this ever good! Simple, healthy, and Delish!
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!