The use of herbs in the culinary world has been around for centuries. They are potent, aromatic plants used both for medicinal purposes and flavor in several dishes. Each culture around the globe has their own unique combination of herbs and spices that is exclusive to their signature dish. Herbs are essential to both regional cuisine and the home kitchen.
Common kitchen herbs include basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage. While most herbs can be found in the store as dried, some flavor a dish best when used fresh. For instance, parsley, basil, and cilantro are delicate and leafy. They can be thought of as accent herbs and used sparingly as a final touch.
Parsley is most commonly used to adorn the plate in many restaurants because it is mild and clean tasting, adding freshness to any dish. Cilantro is also widely versatile and used as an accent to most Spanish, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes. Unfortunately, cilantro is hit or miss due to a compound that makes it soapy tasting to certain individuals.
Basil is a beautiful, peppery leaf that is most common in Italian cooking. Although it’s used fresh, it can overpower a dish if too much is added. Gently roll basil so as to not bruise its delicate leaves and chop with a sharp knife to retain its bright green color.
Herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage are used best when dried. These herbs can support strong ingredients like pork, chicken, and root vegetables. Thyme and rosemary can have a slight medicinal flavor with a hint of lemon or pine. Oregano is deep and earthy and used in lots of Italian and Mexican cooking. Like oregano, sage can also have a rich savory profile most commonly used as a staple ingredient in the festive holiday turkey.
The domestic cook should be familiar and confident when using herbs in their kitchen. Once a cook learns and identifies each herb's unique flavors, their use will become second nature when preparing a meal. Start by using small amounts in dishes you are already familiar with and gradually add more until you find your likeness. Salt and pepper can make a dish good; throwing in some herbs can make a dish great.