When they talk about something essential, they call it ‘the salt of life’. You know what else is the salt of life? Fresh herbs! If you don’t use them that often or at all because you don’t necessarily ‘get’ them or know what they do, we prepared a simple list of basic herbs and what you can do with them.
Not very long ago, I was a salt and pepper kind of person and I didn’t think too much about herbs and putting them in food as a final touch of seasoning whatever I was making. I guess I didn’t think I needed them because my culinary preferences were always about keeping it as simple as possible. But when I got to spend a weekend with a friend and we cooked at her place, I started to feel and understand what kind of superpowers herbs have. And they do! If you’re a newbie like I used to be, here’s a primer on the basic herbs you will need in the kitchen.
The basic herbs you’ll be using will fundamentally affect the flavors of your food and it will almost be unrecognizable – for the better. You can mix them up, experiment with them as much as you’d like. Your kitchen is your oyster! Just remember this: if you’re using fresh herbs, it’s better to add them at the end of the dish, or the heat will kill their flavor and aroma. Here’s more on that here.
The basic herbs for your kitchen
Here’s one big shot herb, which is one of the most important ones. You can use it to make pesto and in other sauces. It’s great for soups and salads. One of basil’s best friends is the tomato. Whenever you make some sort of tomato or tomato-based sauce, add a dash of basil in there and you can do no wrong. The simplest recipe that will show you the power of this herb? Caprese salad, made with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
This Mediterranean native herb has the strongest aroma of all. Its name means ‘dew of the sea’ in Latin. And you can use it with so many things! It goes really great with roasted meat, just add some sprigs when you pop it in the oven. Don’t forget to pair it with some minced or whole clove garlic, because they go really well together. I like to add it to the pan where I’m cooking some meaty mushrooms, too. Don’t use too much of it, though, because its flavor is that strong.
This is one of my favorite basic herbs to sprinkle on my French fries, but I didn’t expect on my trip to Greece for this herb to be absolutely everywhere! In the island of Paxos, every table in every restaurant had oregano on it, and no wonder. In Greek, the name means “joy of the mountain”, and what a joy it is! Use it with confidence in salads, vinaigrettes, tomato sauces, on pizza or fries. Sprinkle it over vegetables before you roast them.
The first time I tried to put this in my Caprese salad, I fell in love, and I haven’t looked back since. This originated in the Middle East and is sometimes confused with oregano. But it has a somewhat sweeter and more delicate flavor, with pine and citrus-y notes. It’s used for seasoning soups, stews, dressings, and sauces.
There are plenty of varieties of this, but the French one is widely used. Its flavor is earthy and it plays well with plenty of other herbs and spices, including all of the above. Its main pairing is with meat, everything from the classic chicken and pork to lamb, duck, and goose. It’s the main seasoning in Caribbean and Cajun cuisines.
Never have a parsley-shaped hole in your pantry, because it’s that essential. It’s that Jack of all trades herb, that can go basically in everything you’re making. It brings a fresh note to a soup, it goes great with garlic on roasted lamb, grilled meat, any type of fish, but also the more mundane chicken, and it’s excellent even on vegetables.
These leaves aren’t just for a green note on top of dishes. It’s a great ingredient for salads in Italy, both veggies salads, and fruit salads. You can make ice-cream with it, and add it to cocktails and lemonade. You can dress up the heavier flavor of lamb, and freshen up peas and carrots.
It’s a symbol of vitality way back from Ancient Rome times. Then, it was a magical herb providing protection against witches and it was used in potions. We use it a lot here in practically anything! In omelets, cream cheeses, cold soups, and salads. It’s usually added to the brine that pickles get pickled in. What more do you need to know?
Fresh chives are used as an accent in the final stage of dishes. They bring that bright green that’s a joy to the eyes and an onion-like flavor. You can pair it easily with potatoes, add it in soups (but only when you’re done and serving). You are also going to use them in plenty of stews, where they contrast with the other ingredients in an amazing way. And don’t forget to add some in yogurt-based dips for your fries.
I once had a tarragon soup I’ve never forgotten. This Siberia and Western Asia native herb also works well in omelets, fish dishes, and chicken recipes. Just remember that heat tends to wilt some of its flavor, so use it near the end of your dish. It has a bittersweet taste I will always treasure.
Also known as coriander, this herb has a very strong smell and taste, so it should be used sparingly. But you can also use it in a metric ton of dishes, among these soups, stews, salads, vegetables, salsas, curries, but also main courses made with fish and chicken.
If you just love fresh herbs, here’s how to keep them that away for at least a week.