Herbs contain leaves, seeds and flowers, that in all or in part are used to flavor foods or to make medicines and perfumes. Our interest is in those that add flavor to foods. Thanks to recipes left by cooks through the ages, we know something of which herbs go with what different foods, a practice that is even more active today, as master chefs globally explore how to bring a variety of tastes to local foods using local herbs.
Internationally, new food recipes hit newspaper and magazines food section regularly featuring new menu items. You can also join in the fun, by planting your own herb garden and try to find tastes you prefer, remembering that all herbs fit into one of these three categories: pungent lead herbs, herbs that add accent and those which blend well.
We know these herbs go best with …..
Basil - Tomatoes, pasta, chicken, fish and shellfish.
Bay leaf - Beans, meat stews and soups.
Caraway - Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips as well as, winter squash.
Chervil - French cuisine, fish, shellfish, chicken, peas, green beans,tomatoes and salad greens.
Chili powder - Beans, meat stews and soups
Chives - Sauces, soups, baked potatoes, salads, omelets, pasta, seafood and meat.
Cilantro - Mexican, Latin & Asian cuisine; Rice, beans, fish, shellfish, poultry, vegetables, salsas and salads.
Cumin - Curried vegetables, poultry, fish and beans.
Curry -SE Asian & Indian cuisine; Lamb, meat-based dishes soups.
Dill (fresh) - Seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and beets.
Dill (seeds) - Rice and fish dishes.
Dried Ginger - Rice, chicken and marinades.
Mace - Baked goods, fruit dishes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower.
Marjoram - Tomato-based dishes, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and Vegetables.
Oregano - Italian and Greek cuisine; Meat and poultry dishes.
Paprika - Spanish dishes, potatoes, soups, stews, baked fish and salad dressings.
Rosemary - Mushrooms, potatoes, stuffing, ripe melon, poultry & meats, especially grilled.
Sage -Poultry stuffing, chicken, duck, pork, eggplant, stews and soups.
Tarragon - Chicken, veal, fish, shellfish, eggs, salad dressings, tomatoes, mushrooms & carrots.
Thyme - Fish, shellfish, poultry, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, potatoes, summer squash.
Tumeric - Indian cuisine; Adds color and taste to potatoes and light-colored vegetables.
These food categories go best with... (Assume equal parts unless specified.)
Eggs: Basil, dill weed (leaves), garlic, parsley.
Fish: Basil, bay leaf, French tarragon, lemon thyme, parsley. Options: fennel, sage, savory).
Poultry: 2 parts marjoram, 3 parts sage.
Salad: Basil, lovage, parsley, French tarragon.
Tomato sauce: 2 parts basil, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, parsley, celery leaves, cloves.
Vegetables: Basil, parsley, savory.
Italian: Basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.
Barbecue: Cumin, garlic, hot pepper, oregano.
These herbs are ones that blend well.
Parsley, chervil, chives, French tarragon mix nicely with small amounts of basil, fennel, oregano, sage or saffron.
For a Bouquet garni: Bay leaf mixes well with 2 parts of parsley, thyme. Wrap in a cheesecloth or wrap parsley around the thyme and bay leaf.
To make Herb butter, mix one stick of unsalted butter or margarine with 2 to 6 tbs. with your choice of any fresh herb.
For a better lemon flavoring, mix 1/2 tsp. lemon juice with white pepper and stir until fluffy. Pack in covered container and let sit for an hour.
For a tasty Italian dressing, heat 1 qt. vinegar in an enamel pan. Pour into a vinegar bottle. Add 4 oz. fresh marjoram, a bit of sage and a a bit of either tarragon or thyme. Refrigerate for two weeks before using.
Hints for when you begin your back yard garden.
Put your seeds into rows by what they do. To begin, plant these Accent Herbs first: Sweet Basil, Dill, Mint/Peppermint/ Sweet Marjoram, Tarragon and Thyme.
Next row, Herbs that blend well: Chervil, Chive, Parsley and Summer savory. Finally, perhaps in your second year when you’ve become more familiar with Herbs, plant these add secondary Herbs: Anise, Caraway, Celery, Coriander, Costmary, Cumin, Fennel, Garlic, Lemon balm, Broadleaf Italian Parsley, Pot marjoram
Tender-leaf herbs such as Basil, Costmary, Tarragon, Lemon Balm and Mints carry a high moisture content which needs to be dried rapidly and need to be kept away from light so what they season retains their green color. If dried too slowly, they can turn dark or become a mold.
Less succulent leaf herbs such as Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, and Summer Savory, which contain less moisture, can be partially sun dried without affecting their color. All seed crops should be harvested when their color changes from green to brown or gray. As soon as herb leaves or seeds are dry, clean them by separating them from their stems. Then dry pack them in tight containers to prevent loss of essential oils which effect their delicate flavors.
Chef's secrets when cooking with herbs:
- When used in cooking, try not to overwhelm your dish with too many seasonings.
- Don’t use two strong herbs together. For the best taste, season one strong Herb flavor with a milder flavored Herb.
- Add dried herbs early in the cooking process. Add fresh herbs near the end of cooking.
- With cold dishes, add herbs and spices several hours before serving.
- When using fresh leaves, chop them carefully to expose the greatest number of surfaces so the food will absorb the most herb flavor.
- A good way to powder dry herbs is with a mortar and pestle.
- When doubling a recipe, use just 50% more.
- Dry herbs and spices carry more flavor than fresh. Use this guide when following a recipe: ¼ tsp. powder = ¾ tsp. dried = 2 tsp. fresh.
- Use a light hand with strong aromatic oils. Don’t let the oil’s overwhelm a food’s natural taste.
- Never use more than one strong herb in a blend. Keep blends subtle.
- Heated butter or margarine draws out the flavor of aromatic oils.
- Fresh unsalted "sweet" butter has more of a satisfactory result than salted butter or margarine.
- Herb butter may be stored refrigerated for several days. The butter should contain a dash of lemon juice if used for making sandwiches or to spread on broiled or fried meats or fish just before they are served.
- Herb butter also may be used with boiled, poached, or scrambled eggs.
- Place the butter in a glass or earthenware custard cup, add the egg and the herbs + salt and pepper. After boiling let stand 10 to 15 minutes while the hot butter absorbs the flavors.
- Pour melted flavored butter over soft-boiled eggs heated in hot custard cups. Pour the butter over poached eggs on toast.
- A unique egg taste happens when their flavored with "fine herbs”, including basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, or tarragon blended one of these: chervil, chive, parsley, summer savory, celery, winter savory, parsley, onion juice or the tops of celery. The mix also gives robust flavor to winter omelets.
- Cut fresh herbs finely before blending with butter.
- Chef’s think the best mix margin is 1 well-packed level tablespoon of fresh green herbs to 4 tablespoons (2 oz.) of butter.
- To make French Salad Dressing, don’t chill the salad oil, keep it tepid.
- Dried herbs are three or four times stronger than fresh herbs.
- Extended cooking voids the delicate aroma of savory herbs.
- For soups and gravies, tie sprigs of fresh herbs in tiny bunches and add them about half an hour before the cooking is finished. Remove quickly when they’ve served their purpose.
- Broiled or fried fish are up-scaled by adding dill butter or finely chopped dill, basil, or tarragon.
- You can elevate the taste of Shrimp by simmering them in butter with chopped basil leaves.
- For clam chowder, add a dash of powdered thyme to elevate taste.
Herbs that are best with Meats
After removing roast beef from oven, flavor it with sweet marjoram in a flavored butter or finely chopped fresh or powdered dry marjoram leaves.
Steaks broiled or fried, taste best when topped with herb butter flavored with dill, marjoram, thyme or parsley and a little lemon juice.
To make a Stew or meat loaf tastier, add a small amount of thyme, sweet marjoram, summer savory, chervil, parsley or celery.
Pork Chops perk up after being rubbed with lemon juice and powdered sweet marjoram, especially if you’ve added a few seeds of caraway before cooking and top them with dill butter after cooking.
Sausage and other ground or chopped meats present a more pronounced taste when topped with sage.
Leg of Lamb goes well with combinations of marjoram, thyme, parsley, garlic, or onion. Chopped dill leaves combined with hot butter tastes delicious on lamb chops.
Veal flavor is enhanced by thyme or marjoram in combination with summer savory and chervil. Thin sliced Veal becomes more interesting when flavored with marjoram and basil, then deep fat cooked in after being dipped in a mix of flour, egg, and crumbs.
Several combinations of poultry seasoning which blend fresh or dried leaves of basil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, summer savory, sage and thyme, increase the original taste of chicken, turkey and other fowl.
Herbs to use in Beverages
Add sprigs of curly mint, apple mint, orange mint, spearmint, lemon balm, or lemon thyme to create your own Hot or Iced tea taste.
All refreshing drinks are boosted when brewed with lemon balm, mints, lemon thyme or sage and served with a slice of lemon and sugar.
Tomato juice is richer flavored by adding chopped onion, celery, basil, and tarragon and let to stand for several hours. When ready to serve strain the juice and ice it with lemon or lime.
Keep dried herbs and spices in a cool, dry, dark place.
Never store Herbs next to a stove because heat, air, and bright light destroy an Herb’s flavor.
Always store dry herbs and spices in tightly covered containers.
If you can’t smell the aroma of an herb when you rub it between your fingers, it’s time to replace them with fresh Herbs.
Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers: Snip the stems, stand the herbs in a glass of water and refrigerate. Or you might chop and freeze the herbs into ice cube trays. When the ice is hard, store in a freezer bag.
This Herb filled side dish goes with any main dish.
Herbed Couscous and Asparagus Salad
Prep time: 10 minutes, Cooking 20 minutes. Serves 8.
Couscous is a perfect side dish for meats, fish or veggies, To make it we use these herbs, chopped parsley and a tangy lemon dressing.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.
2. Add a heaping tbs. of Salt and add 1 bunch of trimmed and cut into 2” pieces of asparagus. Cook 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Drain and put asparagus immediately into a bowl with ice and water.
4. When asparagus has been chilled, drain bowl. Set aside.
5. In a small bowl put 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp. of Dijon mustard.
6. Slowly drizzle into bowl and whisk olive oil, until dressing is completely mixed. Season with salt and paper to taste.
7. Follow directions to prepare 1 7.6 oz. box of whole wheat couscous. Cool.
8. Mix couscous with asparagus. Add ¼ cup of chopped parsley, ¼ cup of chives and 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese.
9. Drizzle on the mustard/lemon juice dressing and toss firmly.
10. Dress the salad just before serving or the lemon juice will turn the asparagus brown.
Another Salad where Herbs and Spices shine:
Chef John’s Macaroni and Cheese.
Recipe Yields 6 servings.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a lg. pot of salt water to a boil.
2. Pour in 1-16 oz. package of elbow macaroni. Cook uncovered while stirring pasta until slightly firm. About 8 minutes. Drain.
3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt ¼ cup of butter. When butter foams and bubbles, stir in ¼ cup of all-purpose flour. Heat 3-4 min. until butter yellows.
4. Add ¼ tsp. dried Thyme, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/8 tsp. white pepper. Cook and stir until smooth. Whisk in 1 cup of milk.
5. Add 2 more cups of milk and whisk again. Bring sauce to a simmer. Stir in 1 pinch of ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp. Worchester sauce and 1tsp. salt.
6. Simmer on medium heat. Whisk until thick, about 8 min.
7. Turn heat off. Add 2-1/4 cups of shredded sharp Cheddar Cheese. Stir until melted then add 1 tsp. Dijon mustard.
8. Transfer macaroni into casserole dish. Pour in cheese sauce. Stir until sauce and pasta are completely combined.
9. Pour ½ cup Japanese Panko breadcrumbs and 1 tbs. melted butter over pasta. Top with ¾ cup of Cheddar Cheese.
10. Oven bake until bread crumbs and cheddar cheese are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Your bookstore has no end of cookbooks about food and herbs, as do many Google references. If you come up with a recipe that is a new way to use Herbs with Food you wish to share, please share it with me.
melissa on September 29, 2013:
this information was very helpful in my culinary assignment.
Russell-D (author) from Southern Ca. on September 07, 2012:
HC/G - Thanks for your comments. I like oregano with eggs, makes it taste very Italian, even more so if you add tomatoes. I frown on onions. Lots of people have been more knowledgeable than I about Herbs. Though I've taste tested many combinations, I stole some ideas from hard working chefs. David
greeneryday from Some tropical country on September 06, 2012:
I love herbs, especially basil, oregano, and rosemary. I have never had egg with herbs before so I am going to try this combination soon. Thank you for writing this hub....
Chef Carlton Haynes from Radcliff Ky on September 06, 2012:
Very nice hub it really helpful and the spice pairs are perfect.
carol stanley from Arizona on September 05, 2012:
You are a hard act to follow with this hub. It contains just about all you need to know about spices, herbs and foods. Great job. I am bookmarking, voting up and sharing.