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Preserving Fresh Herbs

July 11, 2013
by Shannon Hepburn

A fresh bouquet of cut herbs screams summer.  Now is the time to use them in abundance.  Unlike in winter, when fresh herbs cost a zillion dollars, you’ll find generous bundles quite affordable.  Now the question is what to do with leftover herbs?

KEEP THEM FRESH

  • Loosely wrap herbs in a damp paper towel, then seal in a zip-top plastic bag filled with air. Refrigerate for up to five days.
  • Store herbs bouquet-style when in bunches. Place, stems down, in a jar with water covering 1 inch of the stem ends, enclose in a large zip-top plastic bag, and change the water every other day. Most herbs will keep for up to a week this way.  This is my preferred method.  I don’t usually use the plastic bag – I simply keep them on my counter like I would cut flowers in a vase.
  • If your herbs are starting to wilt you can revive them by trimming the stems and submerging in ice water for a couple of hours.
  • Remember to wash your herbs right before using and gently pat dry.  If the leaves get too wet they may spoil more quickly.  Basil is quite sensitive and the leaves will blacken if washed and stored wet.

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USE THEM

  • Use whole leaves of basil, cilantro and parsley in your green salads.
  • Make a quick batch of pesto and freeze for later (just leave out the cheese before freezing).
  • Stir chopped herbs into your scrambled eggs.
  • Mix chopped herbs into some mayo or mustard and spread on your sandwich or use as a dip.
  • Make compound butter (fancy name for flavored butter). Cream together with a fork – 1/4 cup mixed chopped herbs and 1 stick butter.  Season with salt if butter is unsalted.  Spoon the compound butter onto a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll into a log and twist up each end.  Wrap with foil and store in the freezer.  Cut off slices as needed for:  grilled vegetables, chicken, steak, fish, grains, etc…

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FREEZE THEM

  • Use the ice cube tray method.  Add roughly 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs and 1 tablespoon of water to each cube.  Freeze and store in a ziplock bag to use later in soups, stews or sauces.
  • For hearty herbs like oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary try using sunflower oil/olive oil in place of the water.  This way, you may begin a dish by heating the cube in a pan and sauteing an onion or garlic in the herb infused oil.

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DRY THEM

  • Air dry your herbs by tying in small bundles (no more than 5 or 6 stems) with cotton kitchen string and hang upside down in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.  They can take up to two weeks or so to completely dry.  Herbs will crumble easily when properly dried.  Store leaves whole and wait to crumble until adding them to your recipe – this will preserve the potent flavor of the herbs.
  • Microwave herbs for 1 minute or less to dry them and preserve their bright color.  Store dried herbs in an air tight container in a cool/dry place away from sunlight.  I have not tested this method but am intrigued.  I suspect that leafier herbs would dry more successfully than heartier herbs.

EAT WELL AND BE WELL