As you’re following the South Beach Diet, you should be preparing more meals at home. To add extra flavor to some of your family favorites, try seasoning basic dishes with a sprinkling of one or more dried or fresh herbs. You can use herbs with cooked fish, poultry, and meat and as an addition to pasta, bean, and egg dishes, as well as soups, salads, and salad dressings. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Dried Versus Fresh
Dried herbs (store-bought or home-dried) should be kept in a cool, dry place and used within six months of purchase — or of opening. After this time, they will rapidly begin to lose flavor and pungency.
Fresh herbs should be wrapped, unwashed, in paper towels and placed in a resealable plastic bag. They will keep in the refrigerator for three to seven days. Some varieties of fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, last longer than others, such as basil and dill.
If you want to be a little more enterprising, try growing one or two herbs in small pots on a sunny windowsill. As long as you keep them trimmed and well watered, the fresh leaves will be there any time you need them.
Here’s how to incorporate some popular herbs and herb blends into your favorite meals. Remember that dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh so they can be substituted for fresh herbs at a ratio of 1 to 3, i.e., 1 teaspoon dried basil equals 3 teaspoons fresh.
- Basil: Fresh basil can be used whole, torn, or chopped in salads, egg dishes, and pasta sauces (add it to the sauce at the end of cooking). Dried basil is perfect for seasoning baked chicken or fish and as an addition to soups.
- Chives: A relative of onions and leeks, chives have a mild onion-like flavor. Snip them with scissors or gently chop with a sharp knife, and then add them to chicken or tuna salad, scrambled eggs, or salad dressings.
- Cilantro: This lively tasting herb is popular in Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Use it in salsas, toss it into salads and bean dishes, or sprinkle it over baked or grilled chicken or fish. Fresh is preferable to dried for optimal flavor.
- Dill: Available both fresh and dried, dill is a great addition to salads and sauces, as well as to fish, chicken, meat, egg, and vegetable dishes.
- Herbes de Provence: Typically a mix of dried basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, summer savory, rosemary, and thyme, this herb blend is found in the spice section of most supermarkets. It’s good in vegetable stews and can be used as a rub for grilled meat, poultry, and fish.
- Marjoram: A member of the mint family, marjoram has a sweet, oregano-like flavor. It can typically be found dried in the spice section of the supermarket, though you may be lucky and be able to purchase it fresh. It’s an excellent addition to Italian dishes in place of oregano.
- Mint: Most people think of mint as an herb used in desserts or drinks, but it is also terrific in soups and salads and in marinades for lean lamb. Fresh is far preferable to dried.
- Oregano: A relative of mint, oregano is an aromatic herb commonly used in tomato-based soups and sauces, and for seasoning poultry, lamb, shrimp, or vegetable dishes. It’s available both fresh and dried.
- Parsley: Fresh parsley (flat-leaf or curly) makes a great garnish for cooked meats, chicken, and fish and is tasty in bean, pasta, and rice dishes. It’s also a key ingredient in gremolata and chimichurri sauces. You’ll find it dried on its own or in Italian seasoning and other packaged herb mixes, but fresh is best.
- Rosemary: There’s nothing quite like the piney flavor of this wonderful herb, which is typically used to flavor meats, fish, soups, stews, vegetables, sauces, and dressings. It’s available both fresh and dried. Chopping the fresh needles heightens their flavor.
- Sage: This Mediterranean herb has a strong earthy flavor that is perfect for poultry, pork, bean, and vegetable dishes. It’s available both fresh and dried.
- Tarragon: Distinguished by its anise-like flavor, tarragon is a great addition to fish, poultry, egg, and vegetable dishes, sauces, and salad dressings. It’s available both fresh and dried.
- Thyme: Popular in French-inspired dishes, thyme has an assertive flavor that goes well with many foods, including tomato dishes and vegetable soups. It’s also an excellent seasoning for meats, poultry, and fish. Look for it both fresh (try lemon thyme!) and dried.