'Tis the Seasonings
Herbs and spices are at the heart of most of the world's best cuisines. There's no better way to add excitement and depth to your healthy at-home dishes. Whether you use them dried or fresh, these flavor boosters will take your recipes to a new level.
It can be frustrating when your lovingly purchased fresh herbs go bad before you’ve used them up. Here are some storage tips to make them last longer.
Basil, cilantro, mint and parsley are four leafy herbs that taste better fresh than dried. They keep particularly well for several days with their stems in water like bouquets of flowers. Trim the bottom of the stems. Fill a jar or a water glass with an inch or two of water and place the stem ends of the herbs into the water in the jar. Change the water every day or two.
Basil may get damaged by the cold and is ideally stored at room temperature. Cilantro keeps best in the refrigerator. Parsley and mint can be stored in or out of the fridge. If you are storing leafy herbs in the refrigerator, cover the tops loosely with a plastic bag with some holes punched in it. The holes in the bag will allow some moisture out, because moisture trapped in a plastic bag can cause the herbs to go bad quicker. Be careful not to knock over the water containers.
Woodier herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage should be wrapped loosely in paper towels and placed in a zip lock bag. Store your bag of herbs in the refrigerator’s “crisper drawer” (also called the produce drawer). Avoid colder spots like the rear of the lower shelf. Stored properly, fresh herbs will last from a few days to more than a week. Woody herbs keep longer than leafy ones. They also hold onto more flavor when dried.
Consider growing an herb garden. All you need is a container, soil, sunlight, water, and plants or seeds. A windowsill, inside or out, is area enough. Mint, rosemary, thyme and oregano are hearty and easy to grow. Just snip off the amount you need.
Spices and Dried Herbs
Avoid using prepackaged seasoning mixes because they often contain a lot of salt. Many herb and spice blends are fine though. Check the ingredient list for sodium.
Dried herbs and spices don’t have an indefinite shelf life. Check your dried herb and spices now, and toss anything that no longer smells like what it’s supposed to be. It’s best to use dried herbs and ground spices within six months after opening. Store in a dark, dry place away from heat sources, such as stoves or appliances. So avoid keeping a spice rack above or to close to the stove.
Dried herbs should be cooked in a dish for at least 30 minutes for fullest flavor.
Other Flavor Enhancers
Use vinegar or citrus juice to perk up flavors, but add them at the last moment. Vinegar is great on hot and cold greens for example. Lemon and lime juice compliment papaya and mango, which are great with fish.
Feelin’ hot, hot hot? To add a real kick to your dishes, add some fresh hot peppers. Remove the stems, membranes (skins) and seeds, and then finely chop them up. A little goes a long way. You can grind up dried hot peppers in blender or coffee grinder to make fresh chili powder. Or, try canned chilies, like smokey chipotles. After you use one or two in a recipe, you can freeze the rest. Lay them on a plate and freeze them separately. Then put the frozen chilies in a bag for storage.
Some vegetables and fruits, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, cherries, cranberries and currants have a more intense flavor when dried than when fresh. Add them for a burst of flavor.
Article copyright © 2011 American Heart Association. This article is brought to you by the American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking with Heart Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.