Oftentimes, leftover herbs remain in the fridge until they shrivel up and become unusable. We all have had wilted chives, thyme leaves and even chandon beni left over from making green seasoning or trying out a new recipe. Sometimes we even have an abundance of one herb in our gardens (especially during the rainy season). It’s usually a pretty bad feeling when you throw away the herbs that could have flavoured an amazing dish. The obvious answer to this problem is to utilise them more frequently in cooking but let’s face it, there’s only so much cooking a gal (or guy) can do. Here are a few simple tricks that can preserve your herbs for when you actually need them.
One of the most beautiful characteristics of any herb is its ability to infuse everyday ingredients, turning them into something spectacular and gourmet. Vinegars, oils, salts and sugars—even simple syrups—all act as a base, able to absorb the flavour of any herb wonderfully. It’s an easy way to ensure that a lot of your herbs are utilised in an easy-to-use, versatile way.
Infused vinegars are perfect for making vinaigrettes, aiolis and even seasoning meat! We especially love using tarragon, basil and oregano. Fill a glass jar with white, white wine, red wine, champagne or apple cider vinegar. Using a scissors or knife, snip your herbs and add them to your mason jar. Generally use a 1:2 herb to vinegar ratio. Store your jar in a cool, dark place for six months. Then, strain the vinegar using a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. The vinegar will last forever, so use as you please. You don’t have to limit yourself to just herbs, this trick can also work with garlic, peppercorns or even hot peppers!
Infused oils are brilliant to cook with as it adds concentrated flavour with minimum effort. Use infused oils when making vinaigrettes, aiolis, stir frying or roasting—literally, substitute it anywhere you use regular oil! Bruise your herbs by rolling or lightly beating them to release their oil then, stick the entire stem or leaves of your herbs into a glass bottle—make sure that the herbs are clean and not moldy. If you can, wipe your herbs clean instead of washing to ensure that water doesn’t hinder its infusion into the oil. Use any type of oil you would like (milder oils like vegetable or grapeseed work well as they don’t compete with the flavour of the herb) and lightly heat it on the stove. Once lukewarm, pour the oil over the herbs. Let the oil cool completely, then strain or pull out the herbs. Infused oils will not last as long as regular oil so try to use within two months. Basil, chandon beni and oregano oil are our favourites. Like vinegar, you can experiment with garlic, chilli flakes and even citrus peelings!
Sugar & salt
Infusing sugar and salt with herbs adds an unexpected, very fancy touch to unsuspecting dishes. One quarter cup of sugar or salt to 2 tablespoons of your choice of chopped herbs is sufficient for infusing. Try rosemary, chandon beni or thyme for salt and lavender, basil and mint for sugar. Keep the infused salt and sugar in an air-tight container. The general rule of thumb for both is to let the herbs infuse for about one week before you can use them. Use infused salts to line the rim of margarita glasses, season fries or top lamb. Use your infused sugars to replace unflavoured sugar in cake recipes like sponge and olive oil cake or to top cookies. Infused sugars also work wonderfully when making simple syrups—think of all the cocktail possibilities. Like vinegar and oil, don’t limit yourself to herbs, infuse sugar or salt with lime and lemon zest, red wine and even espresso!
Freezing your herbs does not mean just sticking the leaves in your freezer until you’re ready to use them. Finely chop the herbs you want to salvage and add them to an ice-cube tray then, cover the herbs with olive, grapeseed or vegetable oil. Freeze and take one block out whenever you want to use. It’s perfect for sautéing, roasting or for adding to vinaigrettes.
Drying your herbs not only ensures that you have your herbs longer but, it also intensifies the flavour. There are few different ways you can dry your herbs. To air-dry them, wrap your herbs in a brown bag or muslin cloth; poke holes in them to allow for air circulation. Allow to air-dry in a warm spot, away from direct sunlight for 2 to 3 days, flipping every 12 hours until they are fully dried—the leaves should feel like crisp sheets of paper.
Oven-drying can be more convenient than air-drying as it only takes one hour. Place your herbs on a sheet tray and ‘bake’ the herbs at 100°F (you may have pre-heat and then turn your oven off to achieve this low temperature) for 30 minutes then flip them and bake for another 30 minutes; allow them to cool. The herbs should be crunchy like cornflakes.
The last and fastest way is to microwave your herbs. Place your herbs on a paper towel and then cover it with one as well. Microwave for one minute. If they aren’t dried out yet then continue to microwave in 30-second intervals until they are completely dried. Depending on the herb, the time it takes will vary. This option is perfect for when you need a small amount of dried herbs in a pinch.
Visit propaeats.com to find recipes using herbs!
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