Adding herbs to your favourite fruits and vegetables is a great way to enhance flavours, without using additional salt, sugar or fat. Here’s a look at how to select, store and use some of our favourite fresh herbs.
How to Select and Store Fresh Herbs:
When shopping for fresh herbs, it’s important to look for bright, evenly coloured plants with no dark spots, wilting or signs of decay. To store fresh herbs, wrap them in slightly damp paper towel and place in a plastic zippered bag. Herbs can last for several days in the fridge if stored this way.
Alternatively, you can place herbs that have their stems intact into a glass of water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Secure the bag to the jar with a rubber band and store in the fridge, changing the water every 1 or 2 days.
Fresh herbs can be stored in the freezer as well. Make sure to rinse the herbs to remove any dirt, and gently pat them dry before freezing, as some herbs become too soft to rinse when they thaw out. Place clean herbs in sturdy plastic zippered bag, and freeze until ready to use.
Fresh herbs can also be finely chopped or pureed and frozen in ice cube trays. Mix your herbs with a little olive oil to help preserve flavour and protect from freezer burn. This is especially good for soft herbs like cilantro, parsley, basil and dill.
The basil plant is a member of the mint family. Fresh basil has a strong heady flavour, which is similar to licorice and cloves. This summer herb is essential to Mediterranean dishes and is the key ingredient in traditional pesto.
Varieties: Sweet basil, which has green leaves, is the most common variety of basil sold in grocery stores. Occasionally, purple basil and Thai basil are available as well. Additional varieties include lemon basil, cinnamon basil and anise basil, but they may not be available readily in mainstream grocery stores.
To prepare fresh basil, wash the leaves with cold water and gently pat dry. Remove the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Tear the leaves with your fingers or use a ceramic knife to chop or slice into fine slivers. Using a ceramic knife will prevent the leaves from oxidizing and changing the flavour of this aromatic herb. A quick trick when cutting basil leaves is to stack them on top of each other and cut them into thin strips.
Tomatoes and basil are a delicious combination, so it’s no wonder that they are often paired together in salads, pasta dishes and pizza. To experience the incredible combination of fresh tomatoes and pungent basil, try making this light and healthy tomato basil soup or just slice a fresh tomato and sprinkle with fresh chopped basil. For variation, you could even try grilling your tomatoes first.
Additional recipe ideas featuring basil include Shrimp & Basil Fettuccini, Spiced Up Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Pasta, Snap Peas, Basil, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Pancetta Wrapped Nectarines with Basil or even a refreshing Strawberry Basil Lemonade.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, the nutritional value per 25 leaves (12.5 g) of fresh basil using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada is: 65% of Vitamin K, 10% of Vitamin A, 10% of potassium, 4% of magnesium, 4% of potassium, and 3% of iron. It is also high in lutein, an antioxidant that is reported to be beneficial for maintaining good eyesight.
Cilantro is the leaves and stems of the coriander plant. While it closely resembles flat leaf parsley in appearance, it has a distinct flavour that pairs well with spicy foods and tropical fruits. It is commonly included in curries and Mexican food. Fun fact: Did you know that the coriander spice comes from the seed of the same plant?
Varieties: Cilantro is in the same family as culantro, however they are actually completely different plants.
To prepare fresh cilantro place in a large bowl filled with cold water. Gently swish the leaves around to release any dirt, then drain and gently pat dry. Since both the leaves and the stem can be eaten, you can use cilantro whole or use a chef or ceramic knife to mince it into smaller pieces.
Cilantro can transform an average salsa, chutney, sauce or salad into something bold and exciting. Try adding chopped cilantro to a pineapple and mango salsa, along with finely chopped sweet Vidalia onion and serve with fish or chicken. Another idea is to use cilantro to flavour butter when adding to simple veggies like sweet summer corn.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, nutritional value per approximately 5 sprigs (10 g) of fresh cilantro using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada: 39% of Vitamin K, 10% of Vitamin A, 5% of Vitamin C, and 3% of folate.
Dill is a green herb with feathery leaves called fronds. It has a tangy flavour that we often associate with pickles.
To prepare fresh dill rinse the fronds gently under cold water. Shake the dill or pat it gently between paper towels to remove excess water. The fronds can then be snipped with scissors, chopped with a knife, or pulled apart with your fingers before adding to dishes.
To make an elegant cucumber salad, combine thinly sliced cucumber with chopped dill, and a dressing of sugar, salt and vinegar.
Another idea that is perfect for entertaining is this Maple Dill Carrots recipe kindly provided by Carron Farms.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, nutritional value per 50 springs (10 g) of fresh dill using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada: 12% of Vitamin A, 9% of folate, 5% of iron and 4% of magnesium.
Mint is a fresh, cooling herb that adds vitality to a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Varieties: The two most common varieties of mint are peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint has bright green leaves, purple-tinged stems and an intense peppery flavour. Spearmint has grayish green leaves, and provides a milder, sweet mint flavour. Other varieties include pineapple mint, chocolate mint, apple mint and ginger mint, but they may not be available in grocery stores.
To prepare fresh mint, rinse under cold water and gently pat dry. Pick the leaves off the stem, and discard the stems. To chop mint, stack the leaves on top of each other and cut them into thin strips. Mint can also be crushed between your fingers, or in a mortar and pestle, to release its flavourful oils.
Fresh mint adds an unexpected burst of effervescent flavour to sweet garden peas. Why not give it a try to elevate this simple side dish?
Other ideas you might enjoy include Ontario Nectarine Salad with Minted Chili Dressing during the summer, Couscous with Nectarine, Ginger-Orange Dressing, Pistachio and Mint, or Chicken, Watermelon, Quinoa & Mint Salad.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, nutritional value per 8 grams of fresh mint using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada: 4% of Vitamin C, 5% of Vitamin A, 5% of folate and 3% of iron.
In the past, parsley was relegated to a role as a simple garnish but today it takes centre stage. Parsley adds a fresh flavour to starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash and is the main ingredient in the popular Middle Eastern salad, Tabbouleh.
Varieties: Although there are more than 30 varieties of parsley around the world, Canadian grocery stores usually only carry Italian flat-leaf and/or curly parsley. While flat-leaf parsley is characterized with a slightly peppery bite, curly parsley has a mild, clean flavour.
To prepare fresh parsley place in a large bowl filled with cold water and gently swish the parsley around to release any dirt. Remove from the water and rinse thoroughly under running tap water. Gently pat the parsley dry. Since both the leaves and the stem are edible, you can use parsley whole or chop it with a very sharp chef or ceramic knife.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, nutritional value per 10 sprigs (10 g) of fresh parsley using the daily recommended intake from Health Canada: 205% of Vitamin K, 22% of Vitamin C, 13% of Vitamin A, and 7% of folate. It also has 556ug of lutein, an antioxidant that is reported to be beneficial for maintaining good eyesight.