One of the fastest, most economical ways to boost the flavor of food is to add fresh herbs. That’s long been the philosophy in cuisines around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where fresh herbs are an essential component at meals (often, whole sprigs are heaped onto platters and eaten like vegetables alongside richer dishes). Happily, there are more varieties than ever available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. All the more reason to work them into your daily cooking repertoire.
Two Basic Categories: Hearty and Delicate
We classify most herbs as either hearty or delicate. These adjectives refer not only to their textural qualities (leaves that are sturdy and tough versus delicate and tender) but also to the strength or volatility of their flavor compounds and how they behave when cooked; in general, volatile flavor compounds in hearty herbs are somewhat more heat-stable than those in delicate varieties. These categories also help clarify the best ways to prep, store, and cook most herbs.
|HEARTY: ADD EARLY IN COOKING||DELICATE: ADD AT THE LAST MINUTE|
Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram
Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, Chives, Tarragon
Eight Herbs You Should be Cooking With
We love the classic Simon and Garfunkel quartet of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme—not to mention other common favorites like basil (and Thai basil), chives, cilantro, and tarragon—but the herbs below are just as versatile and are worth snapping up if you come across them at the market or nursery.
How to Wash and Dry Herbs
After rinsing delicate herbs, thoroughly dry them by spinning them in a paper towel–lined salad spinner. (Hearty herbs don’t harbor much grit, but if they are dusty, you can give them a quick rinse.)
How to Measure Herbs
Press down slightly on herbs in the measuring cup to remove air pockets; do not pack them down firmly.
How to Chop and Mince Herbs Like a Pro
Gather leaves into tight pile and hold with your nonknife hand. Use rocking motion to slice thin. Turn sliced leaves 90 degrees and repeat.
Chop, then go over pile again by placing fingertips of your nonknife hand flat on top of knife spine and moving blade up and down with your knife hand while using knife tip as pivot.
The Best Ways to Store Herbs
Proper herb storage is all about controlling the leaves’ exposure to moisture. Hearty herbs are adapted to survive in dry weather by taking in moisture through their leaves, so it’s important to keep them dry. Delicate herbs take in and release a lot of water and therefore must be kept moist lest they wilt (but they should not touch liquid, which encourages rot).