Herbs are the ideal ingredient for a health-conscious cook, giving you a wide variety of fantastic flavours without adding any extra sodium or fat.
Storing fresh herbs
Keep in a plastic bag, and trap as much air as possible when sealing.
Store in the bottom of the fridge in the crisper or salad drawer.
Be careful that the fridge does not ice as temperatures below 3°C can blacken herbs like basil.
Place herbs with stalks (like coriander, basil and parsley) into a glass and add 1–2cm water. Cover with a plastic bag and secure with an elastic band. They should last about five days.
Potted herbs should be kept in daylight and watered regularly.
The best way to wash most herbs is to fill a large bowl with cold water, hold the herbs by the steams and plunge them in until they are completely submerged. After a minute, shake them, then drain in a colander. Gently pat dry with a paper towel or a clean tea towel.
NOTE: Parsley and coriander have a high moisture content, so washing them before chopping means they tend to stick together. For this reason it is a good idea to chop these herbs before washing. After chopping, place them into a sieve, rinse them under running water and allow them to drain. You can then pat them dry with a paper towel. This method will give you easy-to-use flakes for soups, salads and garnishes.
Preparing fresh herbs
When fresh herbs are chopped they release their flavour more readily than if used whole.
Some herbs, like thyme and rosemary, need to have their leaves stripped from the stem.
Others, such as coriander, parsley and dill, have a flavoursome stalk and the whole herb can be used.
Herbs deteriorate quickly once chopped, so try to chop them just before using.
If you do need to prepare them a little in advance, keep in a bowl in the fridge, covered with a damp tea-towel, until needed.
Many fresh herbs, like chives and coriander, are best added to hot dishes near the end of cooking as their flavour is destroyed by heat.
Some herbs, like thyme and rosemary, can withstand longer cooking periods.
If adding basil leaves to salads, always tear the leaves to release their natural oils.
Cooking with herbs
Rosemary and thyme: To remove rosemary or thyme leaves, hold the stalk at one end and run your thumb and forefinger or a fork along the stalk to strip the leaves.
A bouquet garni: To create a bouquet garni – a bundle of herbs – mix sprigs of sturdy herbs, such as bay leaves, with more delicate ones like basil. Tie together with cotton or string.
Flavouring with sage: Sage leaves have a strong flavour and tend to go very well with chicken, fish and other meats. They are also a great flavour-enhancer in stuffings or soups.
Grinding herbs: Herbs can be ground in a mortar and pestle, releasing their flavour and forcing it into other ingredients such as garlic. This is ideal for pesto or sauces.