By April Graff
Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian
---- — Q: This spring I want to plant several fresh herbs. Which should I plant and how can I use them?
A: Herbs are easy to grow and a rich source of antioxidants. Adding herbs when cooking is also a great way to add flavor, yet cut back on fat or sodium, making recipes healthier. Remember: When using fresh herbs, add them toward the end of cooking. A good rule of thumb when using fresh herbs in place of dried is to use two to four times more fresh herbs.
Basil: Add to salads and pasta dishes. Take the leaves and crush them in your hand or snip with kitchen scissors to release their sweet aroma and taste. Basil is rich in antioxidants and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
Oregano: Known as the “pizza herb,” it gives food an Italian flavor. Oregano adds a wonderful flavor to pizza, pasta, egg and cheese dishes. Try sprinkling a dash of oregano on eggs instead of salt, or sauté fresh vegetables in olive oil with garlic and oregano. It has antioxidant and anti-microbial benefits.
Parsley: Eating parsley will freshen your breath and perk up the flavor of many dishes. Sprinkle chopped parsley on potatoes, toss into marinades and dressings and add as a seasoning to almost any type of pasta salad. Parsley has concentrated chlorophyll levels, which is thought to help “filter” and maintain the health of the digestive tract.
Cilantro: It tastes like a sweet mix of parsley and citrus. Cilantro should be crushed or torn into tiny pieces before adding to recipes. It goes very well in salsa and bean dip. It is an antioxidant and aids digestion.
Parsley: Sure, parsley looks pretty as a garnish. But eat it instead. It will freshen your breath and perk up the flavor of many dishes. Sprinkle chopped parsley on spuds, toss into marinades and dressings, blend into tabboule and add as a seasoning to most any type of salad. It is filled with nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K. Parsley grows well in gardens.
Dill: Used in cuisine with seafood, dipping sauces, potato salads and dishes, vegetables and pasta dishes. Has anti-microbial and antioxidant health benefits.
To preserve your herbs to use throughout the year, try freezing them. It is a quick and simple process that can be done with most herbs.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
■ First, start with the freshest herbs immediately after harvesting.
■ Next, be sure to clean the herb with running water, then drain. No need to blanch the herbs.
■ Then, chop the fresh herb and mix with water. This step works well in a food processor. Freeze the herb/water mixture in ice cube trays until needed.
■ Remember to label the ice cube tray or plastic bag with the date and contents.
■ Use within eight to 12 months for the best quality.
Frozen herbs can easily be added to dishes throughout the year. Add basil to pesto, pasta sauce or pizza. Add chives to mashed potatoes or homemade veggie dip. Add marjoram to a meat marinade. Add thyme to roasted vegetables.
April Graff, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at both Mankato Hy-Vee stores and can be reached at AGraff@hy-vee.com or call 625-1107 or 625-9070. Send her questions about food and nutrition, recipes, meal planning and healthy shopping.