On the Table

Add flair, flavor with fresh herbs

July 23, 2013 

Need an enticement to fit more seasonal fruits and vegetables into your diet? Start cooking with fresh herbs.

Herbs include a long list of plants used in small quantities for the flavors and aromas they add to foods. You probably have a collection of dried herbs in your pantry.

This time of year, it’s a shame not to use fresh.

Examples include basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme, sage and dill. There are many others, including different varieties of each.

Herbs also add color and texture to foods. That’s what that frilly green sprig of parsley does when it tops a helping of pasta and marina sauce.

Fresh herbs are also nutritious. Leafy green cilantro and basil, for example, contain vitamins A and K and beneficial phytochemicals, too.

You can buy fresh herbs at the farmers market or supermarket, but this time of year, they’re easy to grow at home. Right now at my house, we’re using basil, oregano, chives and parsley grown in pots or a small raised-bed garden.

A giant rosemary bush provides a year-round supply for cooking and adding to floral arrangements.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with fresh herbs. You don’t need a recipe. Figure out what flavors you like and add a little more or less until you get the proportions the way you like them.

A good example is homemade pasta sauce. Backyard tomatoes cooked with olive oil, garlic and fresh basil and oregano will fill your kitchen with a delicious fragrance and tastes divine.

Think of herbs as your culinary accessories. Add a little mint to a fruit salad or pitcher of iced tea.

Add basil leaves to a tomato sandwich or tear the leaves into bits and toss them with hot, cooked pasta. My favorite summertime entree – besides tomato sandwiches – is warm bowtie pasta or fettuccine mixed with bits of fresh basil, chopped walnuts, shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, and fresh, diced backyard tomatoes.

Use cilantro in egg or bean dishes such as black bean burritos or a summer vegetable omelet. Chop extra parsley and add it to salads or make parsley pesto.

Fresh herbs are also magic ingredients in simple salad dressings made with vinegar and oil.

Put fresh herbs to work and rediscover how much you like other foods from the garden.

Suzanne Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management and nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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