Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thrifty Kitchen: Fresh herbs

So, let's talk about fresh herbs for a minute. Frankly, they're amazing. A little pinch of finely chopped this or minced that, and a lackluster dish is transformed into cuisine. Instantly, you're classy and cultured, the type who could discourse articulately about anything from post-colonial economics to existentialist baseball. (I made that last one up.) But you know what I'm talking about: you get a meal that's practically gourmet, for all the effort of running a sharp knife through some nice green leaves.

All right, now, who's encountered a puddle of viscous cilantro, a lump of The Herb Formerly Known as Dill in the bottom of their produce drawer? Raise your hands! I would say that, among all the produce we buy in a year, fresh herbs are the ones most likely to get forgotten-about and wasted. You never need a whole bunch of herbs. Grocery stores only sell them in the bundle, though, and so you either plan in a week's worth of herb-laden meals, or you let that bundle (minus the 2 minced tablespoons you actually needed) go bad. I'd long accepted it as one of the sorry realities of modern kitchen economics.

Then, I discovered my freezer.

One day, in a mad fit of waste-not-want-not fervor, I hacked up the whole bristling bunch of parsley, in one fell swoop. I set aside the bit I needed for my recipe-of-the-moment, and herded the rest into a freezer bag.

Now, I have a special compartment of my freezer set aside for little tightly-rolled bags of frozen chopped herbs. It's embarrassingly well-stocked: parsley, dill, thyme, sage, oregano, tarragon, basil, mint, cilantro. (It should be clear now who's become a little too fond of adding a little frou-frou gourmet touch to her cooking!)

The bonuses are many. I've come to love always having these herbs at the ready when a soup needs a fresh little kick. Parsley can perk up anything, basil (naturally) finds its way into anything bubbling and tomatoey on our stove. As a result of the convenience, we're eating more herbs, too. Aside from tasting good, they are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Did you know an ounce of cilantro has more vitamin A than a carrot?

The best part is the economy of it all. Those fresh herbs are not cheap, at the grocery store. Freezing them this way, each bundle of herbs can last for months. You get your money's worth, and there's no slimy green stuff in your produce drawer.

Recipes Featuring Fresh Herbs:

Pasta Pomodoro
Transylvanian Eggplant Casserole
Homemade Vegetable Stock
Chickpea Crepes
Potato Pancakes
Three Sisters Stew
Rosemary Cornmeal Scones


ChristyACB said...

Oh yes, the slime that is no longer identifiable as an herb. You hit the nail on the head with that one.

Have you thought about growing them instead? I never have quite enough basil, but pretty much all the others I get plenty from my pots on the deck. They're so easy their embarrassing!

Kristina said...

In season, I grow parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, and chives. I probably should've timed this post differently, so it would appear just after everyone's herb plants had been killed off by frost! :)

Georgia said...

I use fresh herbs all the time-flat leaf parsley is my fav. And cilantro, but only in certain things. I've just planted a new herb garden-I love just being able to go out and pick them, and then freeze them for the year.

Carmel said...

You know, that's a really good idea. I've heard to do that before but never really follow through. When I buy fresh herbs, I inevitably end up with gelatinous gobs of old herbs in my vegetable drawer. What a waste. I can usually buy stuff like thyme, rosemary, etc., in the bulk section of my grocery store, but parsley and cilantro always goes to waste. I'm buying cilantro today--think I'll freeze some. Thanks!

Kristina said...

Carmel-- Thanks for your comment! Parsley and cilantro in particular seem to go bad the fastest, don't they?

Stephanie said...

Good idea! So true about all the waste. I'll have to try this.

Cassandra said...

Thanks so much for the awesome tips! I'm just about to start my herb garden this weekend. I had NO IDEA there were so many vitamins, and I had never thought about freezing what I didn't use!

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