Earlier this year, a reader posted a great question to 650Food’s Facebook page:
I have a “minimizing food waste” question. I bought loads of fresh herbs for holiday cooking. Some I have in a cup of water in the fridge, but others are in their mini plastic clamshell awaiting turning into mush before being dumped unceremoniously into the compost bin. What’s the best way to preserve these herbs? Thanks!
Great question (thank you Amy)! Sound familiar? How often do you buy a bunch of herbs, but only need, oh, a tablespoon or a few sprigs for a specific recipe and are then left wondering what to do with the rest? Herbs are mostly delicate little things and have a short lifespan, even if you store them properly.
So, how to get the most out of your herbs without wasting them? You have options! If you want to save herbs for a later use or have a garden surplus, then consider preserving by drying or freezing. Whether you choose to freeze or dry your herbs, make sure you wash and pat them dry first. Here are two simple options for freezing herbs:
- Herb cubes. Chop herbs finely, place into ice cube trays, and gently top off each ice cube mold with water before freezing. After ice cubes have hardened, you can remove them from the tray and store them in freezer bags. Need a visual? Check out Organic Gardening’s slide show.
- Keep herbs whole and store in freezer bags. If you want to skip the chopping and just get to preserving, package your whole herbs into freezer bags. Make sure to press as much air as possible from the bags before sealing. Better Homes & Gardens recommends freezing for these more commonly used herbs: basil, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme.
While I’ll always take fresh herbs over dried, having a stash of dried herbs on standby is a great option when you don’t have access to fresh or frozen herbs. There are a variety of methods for drying herbs, including air drying, low oven (180° F for 2-4 hours), dehydrator, and microwave. I’m old school and go for the air-drying method (least amount of work, too!): I tie a bunch together with a pretty ribbon, then hang them upside from a hook in my kitchen. After the herbs are dried, I remove the leaves/buds from the stems and store them in a glass jar or plastic container.
So that covers preserving, but what about ways to use up fresh herbs before they start to turn brown or drying becomes your only option?
Honestly, once herbs go into my refrigerator, I forget about them. When I had herbs growing in my garden last summer, it became an evening routine to grab a pair of scissors, head out to the yard, and just snip as much as I needed for the evening meal. But somehow when I buy herbs from the market, I don’t feel as inspired to use them on a daily basis and factoring them into daily cooking takes a bit of effort. Here are some of the ways in which I’ve been using — and using up — herbs.
Herb-infused simple syrups can be used for flavoring cocktails, making non-alcoholic spritzers, dressing up a fruit salad, sweetening lemonade… just to give you a few ideas. Best herbs for simple syrup infusions include lavender, rosemary, and sage.
Herb butter is so easy to make it’s ridiculous! And it’s sooo good on bread, crackers, fish, potatoes… pretty much anything that can serve as a butter-delivery device. Want to make it right now? Put 1 stick of butter into a microwave-safe bowl (remove the wrapper first), heat in the micowave until soft, then mix with a spatula until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (try parsley, chives, oregano, or thyme) and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Mix again until smooth. Level up? Add two roasted garlic cloves (smoosh and mix into the butter).
Herbed Roasted Vegetables
Herbs and vegetables are a natural combo: parsley and potatoes; oregano, tomatoes, and eggplant; thyme and radicchio just to name a few. My new fav? Roasted sweet potatoes, finished with a drizzle of local orange blossom honey, crushed red pepper, and finely chopped rosemary.
When I’m absolutely too tired to cook and too hungry to wait for delivery, I’ll make soba noodles and top them with whatever I can assemble in the four minutes it takes the noodles to cook. If there are no leftover roasted vegetables ready to go, then finely chopped herbs, olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a handful of shredded Asiago cheese will do the trick.
How do you preserve or use up fresh herbs? Share your ideas in the comments below!