Experimentation with different combinations of herbs will enable you to use less salt, experience unique flavors, and still have delicious dishes. Herbs are not meant to replace the flavor of the food but to enhance it.
When selecting herbs, choose fresh, undamaged leaves that have a strong aroma. Use herbs as soon as possible as they loose flavor and aroma with storage.
For best results, chop or mince herbs before cooking. Volatile oils are released when the leaves are bruised, which provides their unique flavors. Heat increases the rate that herbs release their flavors as well.
If a dish requires a long cooking time, add delicate flavored and ground herbs at the end of the cooking time so their flavor will not escape with the steam. Some herbs, such as bay leaves, require more cooking time. Herbs placed in a cheesecloth bag allows the extraction of flavors during cooking and easy removal of the herbs before serving.
If you substitute dried herbs for fresh, use about one-third of the amount of fresh herbs called for in the recipe. For example, one tablespoon of a chopped, fresh herb is equal to one teaspoon of the same dried herb.
To add herbs to uncooked foods such as salad dressings or marinades, add several hours in advance or even overnight, to allow the flavors to blend with all the ingredients in the recipe.
Experienced chefs seem to automatically know what herbs work well with what foods. While many of us think that this must be some kind of “genius”, it probably is just the result of many years of experimenting with trial and error combinations. Here is a little “cheat sheet” to get you started with choosing herb and food combinations.
• Basil: goes will with fish, shellfish, and vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant.
• Chives: Use in fish dishes, soups, salad dressings, and on baked potatoes or steamed vegetables. Chives taste better when preserved by freezing rather than drying.
• Dill: A mild herb that is excellent in yogurt sauces, rice dishes, and soups. Goes will with fish and vegetables such as cucumbers and carrots.
• Oregano: Essential to Italian cuisine, oregano is found in most tomato sauces and Italian dishes. Use in salad dressings, soups, or bean and vegetable dishes. Oregano tastes best dried.
• Rosemary: Use this strong, fragrant herb when making roasted potatoes or chicken, homemade bread, soups, rice, and marinades.
• Parsley: Use parsley to spice up salads, soups, bean dishes, fish, and vegetables such as tomatoes, artichokes, and zucchini. Fresh parsley is preferred over dried.
• Thyme: An aromatic herb that goes well with poultry, seafood, and many bean and vegetable dishes including eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and onions.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of herbs. You may find that you can reduce the fat and sodium in many of your favorite dishes without compromising on flavor. All the recipes with today’s column are part of the “Plate it Up!” Kentucky Proud Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Program, UK Nutrition and Food Science students, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
The Trigg County Biggest Loser Community Weight Loss Challenge is winding down. Our last class in the “Lighten Up!” series will be held on Friday, March 22, 2013, from 11:30 AM-1:00 PM at the Trigg County Extension Office. Our focus will be safe grilling techniques. Call the Extension Office at 270-522-3269 before 4:00 PM on March 21st to register. Classes are free and open to anyone in the community!
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Information for this article was obtained from the “Super Star Chef” curriculum written by Sandra Bastin, PhD, RD, LD, CCE, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist, November 2007.
Herbed Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1⁄2 pound whole wheat pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
6 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F. Score each of the cherry tomatoes with a small “X”. Toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and roast in a single layer in oven for 10-15 minutes, until they burst.
Sauté onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 5 minutes. Add garlic and red bell pepper. Sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Add fresh and dried herbs, salt, and the roasted cherry tomatoes. Toss with the pasta and heat through.
Yield: 6 (1 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 230 calories; 8 g total fat; 1 g saturated fat; 210 mg sodium; 35 g total carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 6 g protein
Green Beans with Feta Cheese and Dill
2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed
1⁄4 cup low fat Italian dressing
1⁄4 cup traditional feta cheese
1⁄4 cup chopped red onion
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh dill
1⁄4 cup slivered almonds
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Steam green beans in a small amount of water for 5 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water; drain. Place the cooked green beans in a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss to coat. Serve immediately or chill and serve later.
Yield: 10 (1 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 100 calories; 4 g fat; 170 mg sodium; 10 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g protein
Red Potato Salad
6 medium red potatoes cut into 1 1⁄2 inch pieces
4 cups fresh green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
1⁄4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
salt and pepper
Wash vegetables in warm water. Boil potatoes until tender; drain. Boil green beans until tender crisp; drain. Place the potatoes and green beans in a bowl. Add the chopped red onion, peppers, and tomatoes. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, and chopped oregano. Add to potato mixture and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well; chill and serve.
Yield: 16 (1/2 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 140 calories; 1.5 g fat; 35 mg sodium; 26 g total carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 5 g protein