Herbs: A Fresh & Healthy Way to Spice Up Your Food

Have you ever tried adding fresh herbs to your food? Are you afraid of them? Do you purchase herbs and then end up throwing them away later because you don’t know what to do with them?

In writing the Hauser Diet book, Nicole and I developed and tested many recipes to include in our book The Hauser Diet: A Fresh Look at Healthy Living. We worked with renowned Chicago chef, Steven Chiapetti, on the food photography. Along the way, he helped us improve some of our recipes. Through this experience, we learned how to better utilize fresh herbs in our cooking. Fresh herbs are what change basic foods into dishes with the “wow factor!” And…they are good for you too!

Fresh herbs compliment and enrich taste without adding any calories or fat (now isn’t that a bonus that we all want?) Herbs not only add wonderful flavor, while not adding fat (or salt or sugar) herbs may offer additional benefits of their own. Researchers are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease.

Here are a few fun facts to learn about herbs:

Fresh herbs have both more and less flavor than dried ones. Some dried herbs have concentrated flavor elements, so they can seem stronger. But drying them causes some other tastes to be lost and so the flavors are typically diminished. The general ratio to substitute fresh herbs for dried is 3 to 1. In other words, use three times as much fresh herbs as dried herbs. IE 1 Tbsp dried oregano or 3 Tbsp fresh oregano.

Fresh herbs have subtle and delicate flavors. Prolonged cooking causes them to lose their flavor. Add the fresh herbs near the end of the cooking time. The flavors develop very quickly. They shouldn’t cook in liquids for more than about an hour. Add herbs to stocks, soups, stews near the end or the cooking and you’ll notice that you’ll be able to taste the difference.

Roasts should be rubbed with herbs before cooking. Try chopping the fresh herbs and mixing with salt and pepper. They each flavor the other. Rub the seasonings on the roast cook as usual. Try this on poultry and fish too.

For ground meats, such as hamburger or ground chicken, finely chop the fresh herbs and mix into the meat mixture before cooking. Add whatever other additions you like – eggs, cheeses, corn meal, tomato, salt, pepper, etc. – and shape them as appropriate for the dish. Great on the grill! YUM!

Fresh herbs enhance the taste of vegetables. Chop and add after the vegetables are cooked.

Fresh herbs can add surprising flavor to breads or baked products. In general, add approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs per one-pound loaf. Herbs added to cornbread is really delicious too! Biscuits, dumplings, pancakes and waffles are really interesting with additional fresh herbs if your diet allows these products.

Fresh herbs are perishable

Many people don’t purchase herbs because they die before you use them. Loose leaves are best kept in the coldest part of a refrigerator in perforated bags. Some moisture is good for fresh herbs, but not too much moisture, as they will wilt. Try crumpling a paper towel and putting it into the bag under the herbs. It absorbs excess moisture and lengthens the useful life of the herbs. If you are unable to use your fresh herbs, you can freeze them. Either freeze in a zip lock baggie, or place the chopped herbs in ice cube trays and cover with water, freeze into herb cubes. Plop herb cubes into soups or dishes when needed.