Home Grown Herbs: The fresh secret to cooking success! Here are the best innovative ways to use their flavor in your kitchen and add excitement to your cooking life.
The truth is, we aren’t all professional chefs. A lot of us don’t know our dashes from our pinches from our smidgens (yes, there is a definitive difference), let alone how to create our own original feasts. In home kitchens, food can get bland, and it can get boring. And sometimes it feels like no amount of Master Chef watching binges can help us find flavor.
The good news is that fresh herbs are saving kitchens everywhere from the drudgery of thirty-year-old casserole recipes and bland boiled chicken breasts. Growing your own herbs at home means easy access to the freshest and tastiest flavors around, which in turn means you’ll never have to worry about finding excitement in the kitchen again.
We’ve come up with a list of unique ways to use your herbs, so you can escape blandness and get excited about cooking again.
1) The Savory Stuff.
The most familiar use of herbs: cooked in and topping savory foods.
Simply add your herbs in while you’re cooking—to sauces, atop meats, in pasta, to soups, or even as leaves in a salad. You’re probably most comfortable using herbs in the kitchen this way, and that’s a great thing. There’s loads of potential here.
Recipes that use herbs to cook savory stuff are easily found online, but you don’t need one to make something delicious! Just be familiar with the flavor of the things you’re cooking with (chances are you know them better than you think), and you’ll have success.
Nervous? The good news is that, if you’ve seen a reality cooking show, you’re golden. The number one piece of advice on these shows is to “taste as you go.” It’s easy to judge how much seasoning is enough; your taste buds will tell you!
Basic Herb Rules: If you want to add just a kick of flavor, add your herbs at the end! But if you want to add subtle background notes, add your herbs at the beginning of cooking.
Generally, use more delicate herbs late in the cooking process. Herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, and mint will lose their kick if they’re cooked for too long: it’s best to stir them into a dish towards the end or sprinkle them on top just before serving your dish.
More woodsy herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme are hardier. Add them earlier on and let them cook for some time—at least 20 minutes before serving is a good rule. If they’re not given enough time to cook, they tend to taste bitter and can ruin your dish.
Either way, you’ll love the unique flair herbs add to your favorite dishes! Each herb has its own exciting flavor, and depending on how you combine your flavors, you’ll travel around the cuisine world.
Take this grilled chicken for example. (For fun and to save costs, double the rosemary stalks as skewers.)
2) Baked Goods.
Up your bread game by adding your fresh herbs pre-baking.
Herbs are responsible for the most unique flavors in doughs and batters and the aromatic effect is unreal. And we’re not just talking basic artisan bread (although that’s delicious)—don’t forget about biscuits, crackers, bread sticks, sourdough, popovers, pastry puffs, pretzel rolls, dinner rolls, and pull apart breads.
The best part is, you don’t need a recipe. Any basic bread recipe can be adapted by just adding a few tablespoons of your favorite herb or mixture of herbs. Thyme, sage, rosemary, dill, chives, and basil are particularly ideal for baked goods.
Herb bread is also a haven for cheeses. Try this feta and fresh herb bread recipe and try to tell us otherwise.
Too complicated? Just cook your bread with a sprig of rosemary or add some herbs to garlic bread (after buttering but before popping in the oven the second time). Sometimes, it’s the simple ways that stick.
3) Sweet Eats.
Try your herbs in a dessert!
Herb plants’ delicious leaves work just as well in sweet treats as savory dishes. Besides, fruit plus herbs equal heaven. The flavor options are endless, like thyme and strawberry—or mint and pineapple. We dare you to make this basil apricot tart and tell us it’s not a dream pairing.
Herbs bring out new flavor profiles in any ingredient, and fresh herbs add a particularly bright flavor. When it comes to sweet things, keep it simple and use a light hand. You don’t want the herb’s intenseness to overpower the sweetness.
When using herbs in desserts, it’s really important to dissipate the flavor evenly throughout—you don’t want to get a huge chunk of herb in one bite. To ensure this, mince the herbs thoroughly before adding to your dessert. Or, if you want a more subtle flavor profile, infuse water or milk with the herb and then use that infused liquid in place of the liquid the recipe calls for.
4) Salt and Sugar.
Don’t have time for complexity? This is the perfect option for no-hassle, last-minute flavor.
To make herb salt, simply add a sprig or two of your herb to coarse salt, let sit for 1-2 days, and then remove the herbs. For sugared herbs, brush the leaves of your herb with egg whites and then coat with sugar. Let dry for at least 12 hours. Add your condiments to any savory dish, ice cream scoops, or drinks.
We all know the mint mojito, but there are many delicious herbal drinks waiting to be made—and we don’t mean just alcoholic ones.
For cocktails and sodas, lightly crush your herbs to release their oils and add a pinch of sugar (optional). Pour in your drink of choice, and shake or stir. Begin with these refreshing raspberry herbal cocktails. It’s ideally suited for social events and home gatherings.
Don’t forget about infused water, teas, and coffee though! For teas and water, add the leaves to water and let sit. Sip them in the morning or before bed for a healthy boost. For coffee, crumble the leaves and mix them into the coffee grounds before brewing. These hot herbs drinks emit an aroma as divine as the taste.
6) Deep Fried.
We know it sounds weird, but trust us—it’s a delectable garnish for any savory dish. You can either fry them traditionally or like tempura, but either way is a taste bud dream!
To make traditional fried herbs, fill a skillet with one inch of neutral oil (like canola oil) and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Fry your fresh (and thoroughly dry) herb sprigs for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle with salt while they’re still hot.
Try tempura fried herbs by following these directions (scroll to bottom).
Three words: Homemade. Herb. Butter. If you haven’t had it, you’re missing out. It spreads amazingly on bread, veggies, potatoes, and meats of your choice. The best part? It’s really simple to make.
Simply mash butter and your home-grown herbs together with a fork. Transfer the mix to plastic wrap and shape into a cylinder. Place it in the refrigerator to chill and, when it’s solid and cold, use as you wish. If you want some ideas, check out this post for sun-dried tomato herb butter, cilantro lime herb butter, and Italian garlic herb butter recipes. However, we encourage trusting your taste buds and trying your own mixtures.
The other spread options? Jams and Jellies, obviously. We recommend mixing your herb with your favorite fruit. Try this savory jelly recipe, and this sweet jam recipe. With your savory and sweet bases covered, you’re set for about any flavor need possible.
These choices are simple and mouthwatering—infuse your fresh herbs in oils, vinegars, and honey for an easy way to achieve flavor in meals, desserts, and teas.
In order to make herb oil, put herbs of your choice (basil, thyme, oregano, etc.) into a one-quart mason jar. Then pour 2 cups canola oil and 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil into a saucepan. Heat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the hot oil into the mason jar with your herbs and cover with a towel. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, use cheesecloth to strain the oil.
For herb honey, you have to first dry your herbs. Do this by washing herbs and drying as much as you can by hand. Then, de-stem the leaves and place in an even layer on top of a plate. Microwave on full power for 30 seconds. Repeat until crunchy—about 3 to 4 minutes.
Then, place dried herbs into a jar and top with honey. More herbs = stronger flavor! Stir the mixture and close the lid. Allow the honey to infuse for a week or longer; place the jar in the sun and turn the jar over once a day. We highly recommend basil, thyme, peppermint, or lemon verbena. You can use your honey to top off desserts or make teas.
So, there you have it. Growing fresh herbs is one of the best things you can do to add excitement to your kitchen. Whether it’s as the major flavor component to a meal or a sugared herb to sprinkle atop a dessert, your herbs will revolutionize what you create in your kitchen.
With us, growing your own herbs is easy. Besides, your kitchen herb garden aids you in creating meals that are fashionable for all sorts of environments—urban, suburban, or countryside living.
Your home-grown herbs have bright flavors that inspire even brighter ideas, and we know you’ll make up some great stuff. Don’t forget to share your favorite herb innovations with us on social media and tag us @gardenuity, #gardenuity, and #gardeninspiredliving.