Dill is a don’t, chervil is ervil, and other helpful herb hints

brooklyn kitchen herb garden

The hydroponic herb garden at Brooklyn Kitchen.

Fun restaurant fact of the day: the most expensive part of keeping any kitchen fridge stocked is buying the herbs, and if you’re part of the foodie elite Brooklyn is famous for, then the same might just apply to your kitchen as well. Keeping this in mind, here’s how to get the most green from your grocery buck.

Chives: A big winner! With their subtle onion flavor, chives can go into so many different dishes they won’t be around long. But if they are, they last up to a few weeks in the fridge, as long as you wrap them in a damp paper towel and put in them a plastic bag.

Chervil: Don’t buy chervil. Just don’t. It’s pretty, it makes it look like fairies made your food, but at the end of the day the flavor is subtle and unnecessary, the herb is limited, and its shelf life is pretty sad.

Basil: Very safe buy. This is a great, flavorful herb that can be used in a bunch of different dishes. Great for Italian, of course, but also Asian (it may not be Thai basil, but close enough). It is a light herb, though, so remember to add it in at the end of cooking. Best of all, when it’s on its last legs, you can always make pesto by blending it up with some nuts, cheese, oil, and garlic that will keep for weeks later. To keep basil, put it in a glass of water with a plastic bag over it in the fridge; it should last a little over a week.

Cilantro: Cilantro is a good, solid herb with flavor, longevity, and versatility; from Mexican to Asian, if it’s foreign, then you can put cilantro over it. However, be a little careful with cilantro as genetically, some people are predisposed to saying it tastes like soap. If your friends are cilantro fans, however, put in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the top in the fridge to keep it going for a while.

Dill: Dill is a fun spice, and very good for pickling or salt-curing, but it tends to die out pretty quick. A much better investment is buying a head of fennel and just using the fronds on top, which act as a great herb.

Mint: This lovely herb is a good investment for its versatility. Great in Asian food, Mediterranean, cocktails, desserts and even pesto. Trim the ends and place in a glass with water and cover with a loose plastic bag, then put all that in the fridge to keep your mint going.

Oregano: Oregano has a nice, peppery taste and is good in many Italian dishes, especially tomato sauces. However, that’s where the applications end for the most part, so unless you’re feeling Italian this week, I wouldn’t recommend it. However, if you happen to have some lying around, be sure to wrap it in a damp paper towel and stick it in the fridge in a plastic bag.

Parsley: This herb is just about universal. While the plant doesn’t live for terribly long, it’s never hard to find a use for the leaves, as you can chop them up and sprinkle them on just about everything. Of course, it can be used in traditional pesto recipes with the addition of some oil, nuts cheese and anything else that comes to mind. As an added bonus, save the stems from the plant to use to flavor stocks and soups.

Rosemary: Rosemary is yet another versatile herb that can work with roasted meats and anything involving red wine. This herb is also strong enough to be added before cooking and hold onto flavor. Pesto is a good option, and it even has dessert potential, if you’re creative. Store this just like you would the mint to keep it for week or two, and have fun exploring ways to use it.

Tarragon: This often-underappreciated herb is great with poultry and fish, but at the end of the day (possibly even before the end), dies just too quickly.

Thyme: Thyme is just about the best herb you can buy for your money. It’s a strong herb that you can add in at the beginning or end of the cooking process to just about any cuisine, especially anything European. The herb lasts longer than the Terminator, and when it’s about to go, just toss the whole thing into a soup or a stock to flavor the whole thing. To store it, wrap in damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Scallions: Scallions are another great herb (vegetable? We’ll leave that to the food philosophers) to have in the kitchen. They are Asian food’s best friend, and they work anywhere a little extra onion kick is needed. Their shelf life is also great, and pesto works amazingly well with their oniony goodness. For these, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate them in the vegetable crisper.

Knowing this, and few other key tricks (blending oil and your herb of choice will give you Bobby Flay-esque herb oil that will keep longer and make you look like the leprechaun of the kitchen himself), you can make the most of a limited herb budget. When in doubt, follow the number-one chef rule of cooking: if you mess up, just cover it with herbs.

6 Comment

  • Fun scallions pro-tip: When usin’ ‘em, cut off the bottom part (the white part with the bulb and the roots). Then put it in glass of water and the scallions will re-grow the green part. Infinite scallion. Change the water every day or so for maximum scallion regrowing. It’s like being your own, lazy farmer. 

  • Most of these herbs can be easily grown in a windowsill, in which case so long as you remember to water, they’ll all last roughly forever.

  • Some good tips here, but not the basil.  Do NOT refrigerate basil, because it will turn black.  Just trim off the bottom of the basil and stick it in a jar or glass of water on your counter.  It will not only keep, if you have it long enough (and keep adequate water in the jar), it will sprout roots, and you can then plant it.  Or not.   But if you do, basil is a very easy grower, just keep it in a sunny spot and do not overwater. 
    For scallions, just put the whole bunch immediately into water.  Change out the water once or twice a week.  The things just grow and grow.  
    Mint is a weed, so it is super easy to grow.  Buy one mint plant, pot it in a decent pot, put it in a sunny spot, and you’ll never buy this herb piece meal again.
    Rosemary plants are also great and easy to grow.  Buy a bigger one (they are slow growers) from one of the farmer’s markets and keep it in a sunny spot.  In nice weather, if you have outdoor space, put it outside.  If the winter is mild, it could even stay out all year. 
    An “herb” to add to your list is ginger – keeps grate in the freezer, and is easily sliced, chopped, minced or grated in its frozen form.

    • Ooops, Freudian slip.  Ginger keeps “great” in the freezer, but is also easy to grate in frozen form.  Bon apetit!

  • Super tip for green onions: Next time you buy a bunch, don’t cut them down to the whites. Instead cut only the green tops, stick em in a glass of water near the window and voila – you will NEVER have to buy green onions again…unless your roommate uses them because he’s a dumbass.