Whoever says salt is an absolutely necessary ingredient in cooking, hasn’t been using herbs and spices to their full potential.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do add salt here and there to my meals, but it isn't always a must.
Herbs and spices are a great way to add bursts of flavor to your food without the added salt. While “herbs and spices” are typically referred to as a whole, it is important to understand they are different.
Herbs are the fresh part of the plant, or the leaves of the plant. Some of the most common herbs include basil, cilantro, chives, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
Spices come from the bark, root, stalk, fruit or seeds of the plant. Common spices include cumin, garlic, onion, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and paprika. This list could go on and on, but I’ll spare you. Do a Google search if you’re really curious.
Most herbs and spices can be found in the dried form, whether they are flakes or ground. A lot of people, myself included, have a cupboard full of these. Pro? They have a long shelf life and can last up to a couple years. Con? Dried herbs and spices tend to lose a little of their potency, while fresh have a more distinctive flavor.
When following a recipe that calls for an herb or spice, it’s important to pay attention to whether they specify dried or fresh. Because dried ingredients are much more concentrated, you don't need as much as you do their fresh counterpart (about ⅓ less). For example, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh basil and you only have dried basil on hand, use 1 tablespoon instead.
Below I will highlight a few different herbs and ideas on how to use them in their fresh form.
Basil — This herb tends to have a sweet peppery flavor. It can be added to any tomato sauce, soup, stew, salad, or added as the finishing touch on top of a pizza.
Chives — Sometimes mistaken for green onions, this herb has a mild onion-like flavor. Because they do have such a mild flavor, chives can be added to just about any dish including soups, dips, potato dishes (potato salad or mashed potatoes), eggs or simply used as a garnish.
Cilantro — This herb is known to have a bright and citrusy flavor. Cilantro is a great addition to fresh salsa, guacamole, and Mexican dishes like tacos or enchiladas. It can also be used in sauces and dressings. I have even had a cilantro butter that topped a grilled chicken breast and was out of this world.
The next time you head to the grocery store or the local farmers market, consider picking up some fresh herbs. Or, if you’ve been thinking about starting your own garden but just aren’t sure where to start. Growing herbs in containers is the perfect place to start.
For more information on vegetable gardening, visit: go.unl.edu/vegetable-gardening101
Jordan Luxa is a Food, Nutrition and Health educator for Nebraska Extension in Washington County. She can be contacted at 402-426-9455, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Washington County Extension website at www.washington.unl.edu.