Friday, April 22, 2016
8-2-Eat: The Fresh vs. Dried Herbs Debate
8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. With the cold winter months finally in retreat, it's time to thing about planting herbs for spring and summer. Here's my thoughts on whether 8 popular herbs are better fresh or dried.
Herbs are a wonderful way to add extra flavor to many dishes and most common herbs are available two ways: fresh or dried. Which should you use? There's probably more opinions than there are herb options on that question, yet I'll add my voice to the choir anyway. Sure, dried herbs have their appeal--they last a long time, so it's easy to have them on hand. And in many cases, they'll work in a pinch. But when comes to imparting good flavor, fresh herbs are going to be a better choice probably 99 percent of the time. Here are my thoughts about whether to go fresh or dried for eight of the most popular herbs.
Pasta with Peas, Bacon and Parsley or Parsley Pesto Spaghetti.
Basil: Fresh mostly. Fresh basil is one of the great delights of summer. It's so wonderful with tomatoes. I love it in panzanella and tossed onto a fresh pasta dish in little ribbons. Dried basil is OK when cooked into a sauce, but you're really losing that wonderful summer vibrancy with dried basil. And pesto, one of fresh basil's best uses, isn't going to be the same with dried basil. Try fresh basil in Heirloom Tomato Panzanella.
Rosemary: Fresh mostly. Fresh rosemary is perfect for adding a woodsy flavor to meats, salads and cocktails. Dried rosemary is pretty good at retaining its proper scent, but the problem is its texture. Rosemary is a pretty hardy herb, reminiscent of a evergreen branch. As a fresh herb, it's easy to remove and chop the leaves. Dried rosemary, however, is basically like little dried pine needles, and they don't reconstitute that much when cooking. If you are using dried rosemary, it's recommended that you grind the herb up or wrap the leaves in cheesecloth for applications like flavoring soups or stews so you can remove the leaves before serving. Try fresh rosemary in Winter Chicken Salad Sandwich.
Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes.
Dill: Fresh or dried. Now we're getting down to herbs that, when dried, still manage to retain most of the flavor you get from their fresh version. Dill, often called dill weed in its dried version, is one of my favorite spring herbs. The fresh version is good in lots of things; the dried version works well in creamy dips and salad dressings. Try fresh dill in Pecan, Grape and Chicken Salad with Microgreens; try dried dill weed in Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing.
Fresh Herb Croutons. Try dried thyme in Roasted Vegetable Salad.
Oregano: Dried mostly. This is the only herb that I prefer to use in dried form. I actually really like dried oregano, which has a wonderful spicy-sweet scent and flavor. Plus, it's much easier to use than fresh oregano, which I find one of the most annoying fresh herbs to deal with: it's leaves are too large to be easily plucked off like thyme or rosemary but too small to be easily pruned and chopped like basil. Basically, you're stick with plucking each leaf off individually--a real thrill I assure you. Fresh oregano is very tasty, but dried oregano is pretty great too, so unlike many other herbs, the dried version isn't sacrificing flavor. Use dried oregano in Sautéed Chicken Fajitas. Try fresh oregano in Fresh Tomato and Oregano Soup.