23 Ideas to Use Up That Bunch of Fresh Herbs
Now is not the time to let herbs go unused. Learn how to keep them fresh, preserve them, and cook with them generously in herb-tastic recipes.
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I reach for fresh herbs almost every evening when I’m cooking dinner. But quarantine life means I can’t shop regularly, so the last time I got near a fully stocked display of herbs I went a little overboard. Three bunches of parsley plus one each of fresh basil and fresh mint, large clamshells of fresh thyme and fresh rosemary, and one bunch of chives wound up in my basket.
When I got home, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. That really is a lot of herbs. But I knew that if I stored everything properly, they’d stay good for at least a week and in several cases much longer. And if my regular cooking didn’t use it all up, I had options for preserving as well as recipes that call for a quarter-cup or more at a time. It’s been two weeks, and my remaining herbs are still rocking.
Here are the topics that I cover below:
How to store herbs to keep them fresh longer
Those beautiful bunches of herbs you’ve brought home from the market can last far longer than a couple of days, given the right treatment.
Wash them. The debris and bacteria that comes home with the herbs can make them go slimy sooner. Dunk each bunch in water, swish it around, and dry it — first in the salad spinner, then with kitchen towels.
For the hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary, and chives, lay out slightly damp paper towels and spread them across it, then roll them up like a jelly roll. Slip the cylinder into a zip-top plastic bag, then the crisper drawer in the fridge.
The delicate herbs, like parsley, basil, and mint, you should treat like fresh flowers: Snip the ends and place each bunch in a jar with an inch or so of water, making sure no leaves are below the surface. Top each jar with a plastic bag held loosely with a rubber band. The parsley and mint go into the fridge, while the basil stays on the counter. (Refrigerating sweet basil will make those gorgeous green leaves spoil faster.)
6 ideas to preserve herbs to use them for months
If you have a spare 10 minutes or so you can create an herb salt or sugar; a simple infusion in syrup, olive oil, or vodka; or an herb butter; or you can dry herbs.
1. Make herb salt and herb sugar.
These two concoctions are exactly what they sound like. To make either one, you combine relatively large amounts of clean, dry herb leaves with either coarse salt or granulated sugar. Use the salt to season meat, pasta, soups, and stews. The sugar (which relies on more sweet-leaning herbs like basil, mint, and cilantro — aka fresh coriander) livens up fruit salads and makes cocktails and lemonade taste like you’re sitting on the porch, soaking up the sun.
2. Infuse simple syrup with herbs.
Simple syrup is nothing more than equal amounts of sugar and water, simmered together until the sugar dissolves completely. If you add a sprig or two of herbs like basil, rosemary, mint, or bay leaves, then let it steep, you’ll wind up with an aromatic elixir to add to sparkling water, cocktails, and fruit salad. For the mint, feel free to use regular spearmint, peppermint (which is extra minty) or whatever you have on hand.
3. Dry herbs at home.
You’ve got more than one way to accomplish this. The easiest: Hang them. Gather a small bunch of clean herbs and expose enough of the stems to wrap them with twine or a twist tie. Hang upside down, away from direct sunlight, until crisp (roughly two weeks), then strip the leaves from the stems and transfer to air-tight containers. Drying herbs in the microwave is another easy option, done by spreading individual leaves onto paper towels. It takes a little more effort since you can only dry so many at a time, but you’ll have dried herbs the same day.
4. Make herb butter.
Combine softened butter, finely chopped herbs, and salt. Done. Roll it into a log with plastic wrap and it’ll stay fresh in the fridge for two weeks, in the freezer for three months. Use it on steak, pasta, corn on the cob — anywhere you’d normally add some butter and extra seasoning.
5. Freeze herbs in olive oil.
This is a similar idea to the butter. If you’ve got a spare ice cube tray, you’re good to go. Put some chopped herbs into each well and cover with olive oil, then freeze. I like to use them for cooking, since the oil will melt right down in a hot skillet.
6. Spike vodka with herbs.
The technique is simple: Put a substantial amount of your favorite fresh herb (basil, rosemary, and mint are all great) into a large jar, cover with vodka, close the jar, and let it sit for 3-5 days. Strain, and you’ve got a sophisticated way to add flavor to your favorite cocktails. In the mood for some real fun? Try this bloody Mary vodka infusion featuring fresh dill and a host of vegetables.
17 recipes that use a whole lotta herbs
Come spring and summer, countries around the world load up their plates (and glasses!) with fresh herbs to make even the simplest of meals sparkle. Here are favorite ideas to add to your repertoire.
Easy Basil Pesto
This is probably the first thing you think of when I said “whole lotta herbs.” It couldn’t be simpler: Whir fresh basil leaves, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor, then drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil. Stir in grated Parm and serve. (Or leave out the cheese and freeze for up to three months.)
A South American relative of pesto, chimichurri is a classic herb sauce from Argentina made with fresh parsley (Italian parsley or curly parsley) and oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Piquant, spicy, and full of flavor, it’s the sauce a steak should never be without. (And it’s darned good on scrambled eggs, too.)
Thai Basil Mint Cilantro Pesto
An Asian take on pesto? Why not. Discard any thick or woody stems from Thai basil (or regular basil), cilantro, and fresh mint, and then buzz them in a food processor with a little fish sauce, green curry paste, extra-virgin olive oil, and of course garlic and lime. This is the ticket for jazzing up rice noodles, simple fish or seafood, and chicken breasts.
Don’t let the name fool you. Herb jam is decidedly savory — no sugar in this recipe — but it has a similar thick, spreadable texture to the kind made with fruit. To make it, you simmer several cups of herbs with garlic and some hardy greens like spinach, then cook them a while longer in olive oil with other seasoning. The whole thing pulls together with a hit of bright, acidic lemon juice.
Green Herb Aioli
Aioli — a French garlicky mayonnaise — is enticing enough. But when you blend in a cup of herbs like mint, tarragon, basil, and chives, you’ll find yourself looking for excuses to use it. Try it on a BLT. You won’t be sorry.
Italian Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
The first time you drizzle this herb-filled dressing onto a salad, you’ll wonder why you ever used bottled. Because you’re putting in a full cup of fresh herbs plus fresh basil and dried oregano and a hefty portion of garlic, it elevates even a simple bowl of greens into something spectacular.
Herb and Green Tomato Salsa
I love a recipe that basically says, “Use what you have.” The herbs here can be almost anything you’ve got, combined with some green tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Use it as a pasta sauce, on top of eggs, even as a salad dressing with a splash of vinegar.
"Kuku Sabzi" (Persian Herb Omelet)
Persian (aka Iranian) cuisine uses tons of fresh herbs — the word “sabzi” means “herbs” — and this giant omelet is a perfect example. Onions, leeks, and a whopping 4 1/2 cups of fresh herbs turn the whole thing a gorgeous shade of green.
Lemony Herb Cucumber Water
Have you ever been to a spa where they have big glass beverage dispensers, and you can see the sliced cucumber and lemon and whatnot and it makes you feel so elegant and calm? This is that.
Israeli Chopped Herb Salad
Aside from being drop-dead gorgeous, this salad pulls an astonishing range of flavors from relatively few ingredients. Chopped arugula, mint, basil, parsley, and chives mix with chopped candy cane beets (yes, raw!), dates, and pomegranate arils. It’s all tossed in a faintly sweet, lemony dressing.
Spicy Mexican Slaw with Lime and Cilantro
Other than tender cilantro and green onions, the combination here relies on ingredients that keep for awhile (two colors of cabbage, and a tangy lime and mayo dressing), so you can make it even when you've run out of other veggies.
Herb Crushed Pasta
A bountiful assortment of herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, parsley, and basil!) star in a simple Mediterranean pasta dish. Some of the herbs get cooked with garlic and oil, while others are added at the end as a beautiful, aromatic garnish.
This Middle Eastern dish is basically an herb salad with a little bulgur, scallions, and chopped tomato, dressed with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil. Seriously, the recipe uses three bunches of flat-leaf parsley plus another bunch of mint. Unlike most salads, it holds up well in the fridge for a day or two — but good luck keeping it around that long.
Spring Herb Soup
It may look simple, but this bowl offers complex layers of flavors. Leafy greens plus generous amounts of cilantro, mint, tarragon, and marjoram provide the color and the base flavor, while garlic, jalapeño, avocado, and lime juice make every spoonful explode in your mouth.
Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza
If you’re longing for a taste of August right about now, this recipe will satisfy your yen. Two kinds of summer squash, one roasted and one marinated with herbs, top a white pizza. Dollops of pesto — yup, more herbs — as well as fresh basil leaves and thyme add tons of summery flavor.
Lemony Herb-Loaded Chopped Greek Salad
Think of this as a dinner salad. Quinoa and white beans bring plenty of protein, while chopped tomatoes, red onions, and cucumbers add crunch and texture. The flavor gets a giant boost from three full cups of chopped herbs like mint, parsley, and basil, and a simple oil-and-lemon-juice dressing.
No-Churn Mojito Ice Cream
Five ingredients, including sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, white rum, limes, and fresh mint are all it takes to create a treat that’s part dessert, part cocktail. Two hours in the freezer and it’s ready to scoop.
Recipes for quarantine cooking
We're with you at Yummly during the coronavirus to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection.