As the resident foodie of my family, I’m constantly giving my relatives tips and suggestions to get them cooking at home. This past summer, my mother took a plunge into patio gardening and successfully grew several types of herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, and rosemary, to name just a few. She is now experiencing what many other home gardeners go through this time of year — extra bounty and not enough time to use it all up. What to do with pots and plots of fresh herbs that are on the verge of drying out in the heat of a late summer?
Whatever you do, don’t let those herbs go to waste! For the home gardener or potter, there are two easy ways to save your fresh herbs: freezing and drying. Both are incredibly simple and will preserve your herbs for months at a time.
To freeze herbs, wash the cut herbs and dry them fully with paper towels or a lint-free cloth. Place the herbs in a plastic or other airtight container, remove all the air inside, and seal. Place the bags in the freezer and use as needed. For most leafy herbs, such as parsley, basil, mint, or cilantro, they won’t need any thawing time when you are ready to cook them — you can just remove them from the bag and use as usual.
It might sound obvious, and it is, but those tiny jars of dried herbs that you buy from the grocery store (which can cost up to five or six dollars apiece) come from fresh herbs that have been dried out. You can create the same quality of culinary herbs by drying your own at home. The intensity of flavor you get form these home-dried herbs greatly surpasses that of store-bought ones, as all of the volatile oils are fresher and more potent. There are two ways to dry herbs at home. The first is like drying flowers: tie together bundles of clean, dry herbs with a rope or rubber band and hang them in a cool, dry place until dry and crisp. Otherwise, place the bundles in a paper bag, and set the bag in a cool, dry place until the herbs are crisp. Either way, crunch your dried herbs into as tiny pieces as you like, and store them in an airtight jar or canister. When using these in your recipes, estimate one teaspoon dried herbs as the equivalent of one tablespoon fresh herbs –- or three times the potency of fresh herbs.
If you’re looking for yet another way to preserve your fresh herbs, but are perhaps feeling a bit more adventurous, try making herb-infused salts for your culinary creations. Preheat an oven to 250°F and spread a layer of sea salt and finely chopped fresh herbs on a baking sheet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until dried and crunchy, stirring to prevent burning. When cool enough to handle, place in a food processor or a large bowl and crumble everything together. You may also do this in a mortar and pestle if you have one handy. Use this seasoning salt on vegetables, fish, meats, and salads. Keep in sealed in a jar and enjoy your artisanal infused salt!