Fresh herbs can make or break a dish. In the past, we have often used dried herbs as a substitute for fresh herbs. We turned to the fresh variety when we felt it would truly enhance the taste, but we often substituted dried herbs because of the convenience factor, and because we could never use up the entire bunch of fresh herbs before it went bad. But now, after consistently cooking with fresh herbs for a few weeks, we may never turn back. Needless to say we thoroughly enjoy the fact that our refrigerator is constantly stocked with an assortment of fresh herbs, whether it be dill, parsley, cilantro, or thyme.
Using herbs (and spices) expands ones palette and can decrease the amount of salt, fat and sugar in a dish without sacrificing flavor. We have noticed that using fresh herbs greatly enhances the taste of the dish, resulting in more satisfying flavors and more fulfillment.
Nutritionally, leaving dried herbs around for a long time can diminish their potency. Phytonutrients, the natural components in herbs that provide health benefits, diminish with age. Polyphenols, a type of plant compound, provide one of the main health benefits associated with herbs and spices.¹ Polyphenols are abundant in certain fruits and vegetables, tea, and red wine, and they may help protect against certain chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.¹ Certain herbs (and spices) also curb inflammation in the body, which may give rise to heart disease and cancer.¹
We recently tried an authentic French dish called Blanquette de Poulet, which is a chicken stew with leeks, carrots, and mushrooms served with an egg/milk sauce over some type of grain that soaks up the sauce (we used basmati rice). The recipe called for whole thyme sprigs, which we doubled to get more flavor. The leaves on the sprig fall off during the cooking process and infuse the dish with its subtle flavor. Just remember to pull out the sprigs at the end of the cooking process, or you will be spending lots of ‘thyme’ pulling out sprigs from your plate!
As an aside, here are some ways we incorporate herbs and spices into our foods:
Oregano: Add to scrambled eggs or store-bought marinara sauce, or sprinkle some on top of pizza
Thyme: Add to scrambled eggs, use it as a rub for poultry, add to chicken salad and chicken soup.
Rosemary: Add to mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and vegetable omelets.
Parsley: Add chopped flat leaf parsley to meatballs, eggs, and certain pasta dishes
Ginger: Add chopped ginger to stir-fries. Sprinkle ground ginger on cooked carrots, and stir it into certain soups
Ground cinnamon: Add to hot cereal, cold cereal, Greek yogurt, and french toast.
Garlic: Add fresh chopped or minced garlic to pasta dishes, stir-fry dishes, pizza, and meat and poultry recipes.
Curry: Add to tuna salad and egg salad.
Here is a recipe for a Leek and Carrot Chicken Stew that we made last night with some of the fresh herbs in our refrigerator. It was delicious, very light and can easily be converted to be gluten free.
Images and Recipe Below:
Stewed Chicken with Leeks, Carrots and Mushrooms
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 large carrots(aprox. 3 cups), peeled, halved and sliced into half moons
- 2 leek whites (aprox. 3 cups) sliced and washed well
- 8 oz sliced mushrooms
- 1 lb chicken breast, butterflied and cut into 1″ cubes
- 3 tbs EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tbs white whole wheat flour (we used all-purpose flour)
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- Juice from 1 lemon (Do not use the fake stuff!)
- 2 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk (we used almond milk)
- 2-3 tsp sea salt
- Sauté the leeks and carrots in half of the EVOO on medium until tender. Aprox. 5 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté another 4-5 minutes. Remove vegetable mixture to bowl.
- In the same pan add the remaining EVOO and sauté the chicken on medium until lightly browned on all sides.
- Add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring to coat the chicken well and slightly cook the flour.
- Add the white wine and allow to reduce to 1/4 cup. Should take 3-4 minutes. Make sure to stir the bottom of the pan to loosen up the bits of chicken.
- Add chicken broth and vegetables to pan with chicken and reduce heat till you have a low simmer.
- Add 2 sprigs of Thyme and 2 bay leaves
- Cover and simmer for 45min-1hr. You want a gentle simmer not a rolling boil.
- While the chicken is simmering separate 2 eggs yolks from the whites and set aside. Reserve whites for other recipes or for breakfast!
- Add the eggs with the milk or cream. Mix well and set aside.
- Make sure your lemon juice is squeezed and set aside as well.
- After 45min-1hr the chicken should be tender. Remove the Thyme and bay leaves and throw away.
- Add the lemon juice, stir and then add the egg/milk mixture.
- Bring to a simmer and remove from heat.
- Serve over Jasmine or Brown rice and garnish with chopped parsley or Thyme sprigs.