One of the best ways to improve the flavor of your food is with this month’s harvest – herbs! Summer is the season of fresh herbs. They are the a big part of the tastes we associate with summer – basil in a caprese salad, mint in tabbouleh, dill in chicken or potato salad, and cilantro in fresh salsa. Dietitians love herbs because they improve the flavor of foods without salt or additives and also add a lot of nutrition because of the phytochemicals and antioxidants they contain.
How to Choose Herbs
Select fresh herbs that are loosely packed and free of wilting, drying, or bruising. It is best to purchase fresh herbs as soon after harvest as possible or pick them from your garden in the morning. This allows for the most flavor to be preserved as too much sun exposure or handling can lead to loss of the volatile oils that give herbs their distinct flavors and aromas. Because of the volatility of the oils in herbs, when using them in your cooking, the fresher they are, the better they will taste.
What to do With Leftover Herbs
If you have leftover herbs, there are two distinct ways to store them based on their type. For herbs that are hardier with woodly stalks or thick leaves (think thyme, rosemary and sage), store loosely in a plastic bag or plastic wrap. Remove as much moisture as possible as excess moisture can lead to mold. For more delicate herbs (think parsley, cilantro and basil), trim off the ends of the stems on the diagonal and place them in a vase or tall glass with a small amount of water in the bottom, like you would arrange flowers. Cover the herbs loosely with a plastic bag that will allow for air circulation and place them in the refigerator or on the counter if it’s not too hot in your kitchen. Only wash herbs directly before use because moisture on the leaves will shorten their shelf life. If stored properly, fresh herbs can last a week or more.
This Month’s Recipe
In this month’s recipe – Basil vinaigrette – fresh herbs are a must! Basil provides flavor that is so distinctly “summer” with sweet and peppery notes, and in this simple vinaigrette the basil can really shine. If you don’t have basil, or you just have a plethora of something else, you can make this recipe substituting other fresh herbs, such as cilantro or parsely. This versatile dressing can be used in many different ways to add a delicious boost to your meal. Toss fresh arugula, spinach or mixed greens in the vinaigrette for a tasty and quick side salad or drizzle on a sandwich or grilled vegetables for an extra splash of flavor. Use as a dressing for pasta salad and coleslaw or even as a marinade for chicken or fish. The sweet taste of summer is only a few minutes away with this classic herb vinaigrette!
For more on herbs including recipes, fun facts and even book recommendations, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month’s website.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.
- 1/4cupred wine vinegar
- 1/2cupfresh basil leaves
- 2garlic cloves
- 1/4tspblack pepper
- 3/4cupvegetable oil
- In a food, combine all ingredients except the oil and blend until smooth.
- With the processor still running add the oil in a slow steady stream until emulsified.