Making the Most of Summer's Herbs

Herbs are fantastic flavor-enhancers that can be used in everything from soups and salads to vinegars and teas for a savory, spicy, or zesty boost. Here are some tips for maximizing the bountiful herbs of summer:

  • Purchase wisely. When purchasing fresh herbs, look for bright leaves with few blemishes and a vibrant, fresh scent.

     

  • Store fresh herbs to last. Wrap fresh herbs loosely in barely dampened paper towels, place in a resealable plastic bag with the air pressed out (leaving a small opening), and keep in the refrigerator produce drawer for 3 to 5 days. You can also store fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro bouquet-style. Place the stems in a glass with a few inches of cool water. Keep the bouquets on a countertop in a cool area, away from sunlight and heat.

     

  • Substitute fresh herbs for dried. Substitutions can be made in many recipes using a simple 1 (dried herb) to 3 (fresh herb) ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of dried thyme, use 3 tablespoons of fresh.

     

  • Make fresh herb vinegars. Clean some fresh herbs and pat them dry. Place individually in small plastic or glass containers. Cover the herbs with cider vinegar, red- or white-wine vinegar, or rice-wine vinegar. Seal and refrigerate for 2 weeks, then strain and discard the herbs. Use herb vinegars in salads and marinades. Kept in a cool dark place, the vinegar will keep for 6 to 8 months.

     

  • Brew fresh herb teas. Simmer 8 to 10 tablespoons (or more to taste) of a fresh herb such as peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm, or lemongrass in 4 cups of water for 15 minutes. Strain and refrigerate for iced tea, or serve hot. You can enhance herb teas by adding citrus peel or fennel seeds to the simmering water. You can also put the herb (lots and lots of mint works really well) in a clear glass or plastic water-filled container and leave it out in the hot sun for a few hours to make “herbal sun tea,” which is delicious iced.

     

  • Freeze herbs. Freezing is the best way to preserve the delicate flavor of soft-leaved herbs, such as tarragon, chives, sage, and dill, when they’re at their summer peak. Using tongs to hold a few stems at a time, dip the herbs into a pot of boiling water for a few seconds, then immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water. Dry between single layers of paper towels, then place the herbs in a single layer on individual pieces of wax or parchment paper. Roll up the paper, press down to flatten, and store in a labeled and dated resealable plastic bag or bags in the freezer. You do not need to unroll the entire roll to use the frozen herbs; just use what you need.

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