Make Meals Healthier with Herbs

Herbs grow in my garden in summer and on my windowsills in winter. I can’t imagine cooking without herbs. From the delicately flavored to the really robust, herbs can elevate a dish from the everyday to the sublime. But it’s not just taste that you should consider when deciding to use herbs. Learn a few of the favorite herbs I use to make meals healthier with herbs.

Make meals healthier with herbs

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Make Your Own – Infused Oils

So many recipes call for oil and using infused oil can add another layer of flavor. Oil can be infused with herbs, aromatics like garlic or onion, citrus, and even nuts. It’s easy to make your own infused oils! Here’s how to do it.

First, remember that you must always use fresh herbs when making infused oils. The flavor of fresh herbs is more pure than dried and using fresh herbs will give your oil a vibrant color.

Make-Your-Own-Infused-Oils

You’ll need:

  • A blender or food processor
  • Cooking pot or oven-safe bowl
  • Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
  • Funnel
  • Glass bottles with tight fitting caps
  • Olive oil (or any other neutrally flavored oil)
  • Fresh herbs, aromatics, citrus, and/or nuts

 

 

Herb Infused Oils:

herbs

Blend soft herbs like basil and cilantro with the oil in the blender or food processor before heating. If you want a more vibrant color blanch the herbs then shock with ice water before blending. Adding the herbs without blanching gives you more flavorful oil. When using woody herbs like thyme or rosemary, simply add the sprigs to the oil and follow the instructions for heating.

When you have combined your herbs and oil heat them in a small saucepan over medium heat until the oil is lightly bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the oil to cool completely.

Strain the oil through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. If making oil using soft herbs, be sure not to press on the solids. Care during the straining process will prevent cloudy oil. You can place the woody herbs in the bottle but it will cause slightly cloudier oil.

While basil, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme are commonly used herbs you may want to also try these herbs:

Chives

Dill

Marjoram

Mint

Oregano

Parsley

Sage

Tarragon

 

Aromatic Infused Oils:

aromatics

For both dipping and cooking oils infused with aromatics like garlic and onion can’t be beat.

Wash whatever aromatic you’re going to use even though you’ve peeled them. You want to be sure to remove any trace of impurities.

Cut large items like onions in half or in rings. Garlic cloves and shallots can be left whole.

Roast aromatics before heating them with the oil. Pop them in the over on a baking sheet at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes or until just golden. This releases the fragrance and flavor.
Add the aromatic to the oil in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the oil begins to lightly bubble. Remove the pan from the heat and allow mixture to cool completely.

Although you can leave aromatics in the bottle without causing cloudiness the aromatic will continue to infuse the oil making the flavor stronger over time.

Garlic and onion are popular aromatics used in infused oil but also try:

Ginger

Green onions (scallions)

Lemongrass

Shallots
Citrus Infused Oils:

citrus

Citrus zest can add a bright flavor with a little tang to your infused oil.

Wash fruit carefully to remove any trace of pesticides. Use a vegetable peeler to make long strips of peel for easier removal. Be sure not to get any of the bitter, white pith.

Add peel to oil in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the oil begins to lightly bubble. Remove the pan from the heat and allow oil to cool completely.

Removing the zest while the oil is cooling will leave you with clearer and more delicately flavored oil. Leaving the zest in while the oil cools will produce a stronger flavor but cloudier oil. Strain the zest from the oil before bottling.

Lemons, limes, and oranges are typical citrus choices for infusing oil but you can also infuse oils with these citrus flavors:

Blood orange

Clementine

Grapefruit

Meyer lemon

Tangerine

Kumquat

 

Nut Infused Oils:

nuts

Use raw, unsalted nuts to make nut infused oils. Buy nuts that have been skinned or blanched. The oil will not taste quite the same as nut oils because they are made by pressing the oil from crushed nuts. Your nut infused oil will have a rich, roasted, savory flavor.

Add the nuts to the oil in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the oil is lightly bubbling. Remove from heat and allow oil to cool completely.

You don’t even have to strain the nuts out because they will not cloud the oil.

Peanut infused oil, while not the same as commercially produced peanut oil can add a lot of flavor but you may want to try these, too:

Almond

Cashew

Hazelnut

Pecan

Pine nut

Pistachio
Be Creative:

be-creative

Try combining flavors when you infuse oils. Many herbs, aromatics, citrus fruits, and nuts combine well together. Just follow the instructions for preparing each ingredient then combine with the oil and heat, cool, and strain.

Make these for cooking or great dipping oils for crusty bread:

Basil and garlic

Basil and mint

Marinade or cook chicken in these tasty oils:

Cardamom and orange

Rosemary and orange

Try these spicy combinations for Mexican dishes:

Cilantro, red pepper flakes, lime, and onion

Cilantro, scallions, jalapeno, and garlic

Keep your infused oils in the refrigerator and discard after a month.

 

 

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Flavor Inspired Container Herb Gardens

Some herbs pair so naturally and deliciously with each other that we reach for the combinations automatically. Since we’re trying to achieve certain flavor profiles I thought it might be fun to create flavor inspired container herb gardens.

herbs-1191341_1920-01

Try planting these herbs together and everything you need for a certain style of cooking will be right at your fingertips.

  • Mediterranean: Plant Greek oregano, thyme, and a bay laurel tree together. Prune the tree so the branches are a foot or so above the soil. This will allow plenty of light to reach the thyme and oregano. And the tree won’t get more than about 4 feet tall grown in a pot. Give this container plenty of sun and don’t worry too much about watering. These plants are moderately drought-tolerant. In winter, if you live in a cold area, bring the container inside and let the tree go dormant by placing it in a chilly but sunny spot. This combination of herbs is fabulous with grilled fish, seafood stews, and lamb.
  • Mexican, Latin American & Caribbean: Cilantro, marjoram, papalo (also known as summer cilantro and Bolivian coriander), and Cuban oregano are for dishes from Mexico, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. This container should be kept consistently damp. Test by poking your finger about an inch into the soil. Marjoram and Cuban oregano are frost-sensitive so keep this container indoors in the winter. These are, naturally, heat loving plants so keep them very warm.
  • English Garden: English lavender, borage, chamomile, are lemon balm are all part of this versatile herb garden. Flowers and leaves from most of these plants can be used in cooking. This combo prefers a lot of sun and moist soil. Combine sage, parsley, and lemon balm to flavor vegetables and meats. These plants like moist but not wet soil and, the sage especially, prefers full sun. Rosemary is another plant you might want to grow but it should be kept in a separate pot because it’s picky about water. Too much moisture will quickly kill rosemary. Move these containers inside for the winter if you live in northern climes.

 

  • Southeast Asian: Try flatleaf garlic chives, spearmint, lemon basil, and lemon grass for this container. You may even want to try Vietnamese coriander. Keep them in bright sunlight and maintain even moisture. Lemon basil will need to be replaced each season. If your temperatures stay above 10°F you can leave the flatleaf garlic chives and spearmint outdoors but move them inside if your temperatures go really low. Bring the rest inside for the winter. This container may inspire you to make your own spring rolls and curries.

 

 

Make Meals Healthier With Herbs

Herbs grow in my garden in summer and on my windowsills in winter. I can’t imagine cooking without herbs. From the delicately flavored to the really robust, herbs can elevate a dish from the everyday to the sublime. But it’s not just taste that you should consider when deciding to use herbs. This post will show you how to make meals healthier with herbs.

Make meals healthier with herbs

— Continue reading

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