Cooking with fresh herbs is romantic. For many of us, the idea of tearing up a fresh, aromatic leaf and letting it drift over a pan of simmering food, flavoring the food with subtle accents, doesn't get much better.
You can mix herbs together for all sorts of interesting flavors. Classic bouquet garni ("bundle of herbs"), used to enhance numerous dishes, is a blending of thyme, parsley, and bay, but you can make your own bundles and mixtures. Pair herbs in your favorite dishes, always favoring the freshest ones you can find over any specific one.
Although our gardens may be unavailable until next spring, markets carry small bundles of fresh herbs that will make cold-weather cooking pop with fresh, glorious flavor. Plus you can grow many in pots on a sunny windowsill. Try these fresh herbs; you'll like them!
Basil: There are more than 50 varieties of basil. Some are more pungent than others; all taste slightly of anise. Basil pairs well with tomatoes and is used in classic pesto.
Bay: Fresh bay leaves, which should be torn or shredded, are not as pungent as dried bay leaves but add distinctive, citrusy flavor to sauces, soups, and stews. They are especially good with fish.
Chives: this member of the onion family is delicate tasting and blends nicely with other herbs. Use it freshly snipped in salads, soups, and egg dishes. These should not be cooked; barely heated, if at all.
Cilantro: The flat, green leaves of the cilantro plant taste quite different from the seeds, which are a strong spice and are called coriander. Cilantro is used widely in Mexican cooking, as well as in the cuisines of China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It resembles Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, which is why it is sometimes called Chinese parsley.
Dill: Wispy, feathery dill leaves are integral to Scandinavian cooking. It's great with smoked salmon, but also marries well with other fish, roasted vegetables, and poultry.
Mint: The many varieties of mint provide various intensities of flavor. Use mint in savory and sweet dishes. It tastes as fresh with lemony desserts or fresh berries as it does in vegetable dishes - in particular with peas -- and sauces for lamb and pork
Oregano: Oregano is a natural with tomatoes, which is why it is so often an ingredient in pasta or pizza sauce. Marjoram, which is closely related, is a little milder.
Parsley: Flat-leaf parsley is the best choice of cooking, while its curly cousin is suitable for garnishes. Its faintly peppery flavor makes it good with nearly any vegetable, poultry, or meat dish.
Sage: These sweet, soft gray leaves are perfect with pork, poultry, and vegetables. While most often found dried, they are worth seeking out fresh. Sage is a common flavoring in sausages.
Sorrel: This delicate leaf is tart and bright tasting and is highly prized in Europe, where it's used in soups and sauces. Try it with fish and eggs, too.
Summer savory: This is a little more bitter tasting than thyme, but otherwise tastes quite like it. Use the delicate herb in meat, poultry, and bean stews.
Rosemary: Found in Mediterranean cooking, rosemary adds it pungency to lamb and poultry dishes, as well as many vegetables and fish. The spiky leaves grow on sturdy stems, which makes this a favorite for skewering small kebobs.
Tarragon: Tasting somewhat of anise, tarragon is great with eggs, fish, and chicken dishes as well as vegetables. It is also delicious in cheese dishes and is used to flavor vinegar.
Thyme: Used extensively throughout Europe, thyme is considered an essential culinary herb in most kitchens. Thyme pairs beautifully with poultry and vegetables. It can be used interchangeably with summer savory in many instances.