If you grow herbs in your garden or buy them fresh from local farms and farmers’ markets, there are limitless ways to enjoy them in foods and beverages. They are a great way to add flavor without adding fat, salt and added calories.
“Herbs add bright flavor to just about anything and can make ho-hum recipes into something special,” says Sarah Chapel, a registered dietitian with Henry Ford Allegiance Health.
A simple but delicious way to use basil, for example, is to pair it with homegrown tomatoes, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Add fresh mozzarella, and you have a Caprese salad. Basil pesto is simply a mix of fresh basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic and walnuts or pine nuts. Pesto recipes are easy to find online, including variations with herbs other than basil. And just about any fresh herb can be finely chopped and added to salad greens for extra flavor.
Below are some suggestions for using fresh herbs in ways you may not have tried before. Experiment with different blends of the herbs you like best.
- Smoothies. Start with a fruit and plain yogurt and blend with finely chopped herbs. Try rosemary with raspberries, basil with strawberries, parsley with ginger and apples; use your imagination!
- Infused olive oil (use for dipping crusty bread or with vinegar as a salad dressing). Warm two cups of olive oil, stir in several herbs of your choice—oregano, rosemary, basil, thyme, peppercorn, garlic or chives, red pepper flakes, etc. Let sit for two weeks, and then strain out the herbs. Keep refrigerated.
- Vinaigrette dressing (for green salad, pasta salad or steamed vegetables). Blend ¼ cup vinegar with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, slowly whisk in ½ cup olive oil, add salt and pepper and your choice of fresh chopped herbs like dill, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint or thyme. If this is too tart for your taste, add a bit of honey.
- Grilled fruit. Peaches, nectarines, plums and pineapple are delicious when grilled. Try them plain, sprinkled with fresh herbs, or brush on simple syrup (see recipe below) before grilling.
- Simple syrup (add to iced tea, or brush on fruit before grilling). Start with equal parts of water and sugar; add the juice of a lemon or lime and boil with an herb of your choice—mint, rosemary, basil, etc.
- Vegetable dip. Add finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice and fresh garlic or garlic power to plain, low-fat sour cream; blend well and let sit, refrigerate for several hours before using.
- Infused water. Adding herbs and fruit to sparkling or still water add flavor and feel more special than drinking a plain old glass of water. Experiment with different combinations and stay hydrated.
Fresh herbs last longer with proper storage. Before placing in the refrigerator, wash them gently in cold water and either wrap in a paper towel or put them in water. They can also be finely chopped and frozen in freezer-safe containers.
To schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a registered dietitian, visit HenryFord.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, visit henryfordallegiance.com or call 1-888-862-DOCS.
Sarah Chapel is a registered dietitian with Henry Ford Allegiance Health’s Department of Prevention and Community Health. She provides nutrition counseling services, education and healthy cooking demonstrations for community members, local groups and Henry Ford Allegiance Health staff.