Food & Drink

Herbs maximize flavor

A generous sprinkling of fresh herbs adds color and flavor to Garden Panzanella.
A generous sprinkling of fresh herbs adds color and flavor to Garden Panzanella. Tribune News Service

Herbs are culinary workhorses of the kitchen. But not all work together well because some have stronger, more assertive flavors than others. And you don’t want to mix too many herbs (fresh or dried) because they can get lost in a dish and end up being a complete waste of ingredients. Herbs are meant to enhance and add flavor and dimension to a dish, not overpower it or be too subtle.

You can combine many dried herbs like basil, oregano and thyme. But know their flavor profiles first. Rosemary, thyme and oregano have a strong, more assertive flavor. Tarragon, basil and mint are more floral. Dill, both fresh and dried, has a bright, almost grassy flavor with a slightly sweet finish.

Using fresh or dried herbs is also a good way to season food if you’re trying to cut back on salt. When using dried herbs, use less than fresh. Use a 3-to-1 ratio; if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon fresh basil, substitute 1 teaspoon dried basil.

USING HERBS IN COOKING

▪  Fresh herbs that have softer and delicate leaves — parsley, cilantro, basil, tarragon — should be added during the last few minutes of cooking. If cooked longer, these tend to lose their vibrant color and flavor. Rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano have heartier leaves and a more assertive flavor. These can hold up to longer cooking times and can be added early on or halfway through the process.

▪  When making pesto, you can omit the basil and in its place use mint, cilantro or sage. Whichever you choose, pair it with parsley.

▪  Mix fresh chopped herbs in softened butter to use as a spread or with corn on the cob.

▪  The leaves of fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, basil and tarragon are lovely in a mixed greens salad.

FLAVOR PAIRINGS FOR COMMON HERBS

Basil: Its licorice-like, sweet flavor is best used on grilled meat, poultry, fish and seafood and in pastas, tomato dishes, soups and vegetable dishes and added to a vinaigrette.

Cilantro: Skip the dried version, which doesn’t have a huge amount of flavor, and opt for fresh. Its bright, citrusy flavor goes well with most fish and shellfish, with grilled poultry, and in marinades and sauces.

Dill: In dried form it’s very mild, fragrant and sweet. Fresh dill has a somewhat grassy taste. Use it to season seafood, meat, poultry, soups, chowders, vegetables and egg dishes and in dressings, vinaigrettes and dips.

Mint: With its peppery and cool flavor, mint goes well with many lamb dishes, poultry and some seafood dishes. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly at first and adjust to taste.

Oregano: It has a strong and peppery flavor. Dried oregano is stronger than fresh, so be careful when adding it to dishes. Both fresh and dried can be used on grilled meats, fish and poultry and in marinades. Dried oregano works well in pasta dishes, stews, soups, tomato dishes, vinaigrettes, sauces, sprinkled on top of pizza or on pizza crust and on vegetables.

Rosemary: It has a strong, woodsy taste. Use it sparingly because a little goes a long way. It pairs well with chicken, pork and lamb and in soups and marinades. Crush the needles before using. Its hearty branches also make good skewers for grilled cubes of potatoes or lamb.

Sage: This is a bold and assertive herb. Sage goes well with veal, poultry and pork, and is best known as a stuffing ingredient.

Tarragon: Its mild anise-like flavor goes great with grilled fish such as salmon. Tarragon also goes well with lamb, poultry, shellfish, egg dishes, soups, salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

Thyme: Its strong lemony and peppery flavor is ideal for vinaigrettes and dressings and with beef, poultry, lamb, pork, fish, soups, stews, sauces and vegetables. Use it sparingly, fresh or dried, in marinades and vinaigrettes.

GARDEN PANZANELLA

Serves 12. Preparation time: 30 minutes. Total time: 45 minutes.

If you are not using day-old bread, dry the bread slices in a 300-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes. This salad is best served immediately.

Ingredients

SALAD

6 medium tomatoes, washed, cut into chunks

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-pound loaf of thick-crust bread or 1- or 2-day-old French baguette, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium cucumber, peeled if desired, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 green onions, washed, thinly sliced

1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh chopped herbs such as basil, chives, tarragon or oregano

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

VINAIGRETTE

1/2 cup olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or white vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard or more to taste

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, pressed

Directions

In a large bowl, place the tomato chunks and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Place the bread in a large serving bowl. Add the cucumber, red pepper and red and green onion. Add the tomatoes with any juices. Sprinkle salad with a generous amount of herbs and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients until the mixture emulsifies. Drizzle the vinaigrette lightly over the salad and toss gently to coat. Use only enough vinaigrette to coat all the ingredients. Leftover vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for several days. Season the salad with salt and black pepper to taste and serve.

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