Folding balanced flavor into dishes is a lifelong pursuit for home cooks. In addition to salts and fats, herbs and spices are home cook’s secret weapons when it comes to amping up flavor. With prep typically only involving a light chop with a Chef's Knife, herbs are your best friends for adding freshness and complexity to everything from soups and sauces to salads, pastas, and even cocktails.
So today, we’re focused on getting to know herbs. Unlike their counterpart, spices, made from the seeds, stems, bark, or roots of plants, herbs refer to the leaves. Here’s our crash course on these magical plants and how to get the most out of them.
Treat fresh and dried herbs differently.
Most herbs are available both fresh and dried, and dried herbs are more potent and concentrated by volume. As a rule of thumb, use the ratio of one tablespoon fresh herbs to one teaspoon of dry herbs. So, if a recipe calls for two tablespoons of fresh oregano, you can substitute two teaspoons of dried oregano instead.
Softer herbs are great as garnishes, but woodier herbs are better cooked.
Softer, “fine” herbs, such as dill and chives, are delicious uncooked but can also be added to soups and the top of hot dishes as a great finisher. Woodier, firmer herbs, such as rosemary, are better cooked. Their flavor is often too powerful to be eaten raw, but stand up well to cooking alongside stews, meats, or other dishes.
Learn the flavor profiles of your favorite herbs to make substitution easier.
Here's a quick overview of the aromas, flavor profiles, and simple substitutions of the most common soft and woody herbs.
- Basil - Sweet & Peppery (substitute for oregano or thyme)
- Cilantro - Bright & Citrusy
- Mint - Sweet & Cool (substitue for basil or rosemary)
- Dill - Sweet & Licorice-y
- Parsley - Fresh, Peppery, Grassy (substitute for chervil or cilantro)
- Chives - Delicate Onion (substitute for onions or leeks)
- Oregano - Peppery & Lemony (substitue for thyme, basil, or marjoram)
- Thyme: Earthy, Minty, Lemony (substitute for basil, marjoram, or oregano)
- Rosemary: Lemony & Woody, Pine (substitute for thyme or sage)
- Sage: Earthy, Minty, Lemony (substitute for poultry seasoning or rosemary)
- Bay Leaves: Peppery & Piney
Experiment to find your favorite vegetable, protein, and herb pairings.
To start, here are some foolproof, classic ways to pair your herbs.
- Basil: Eggplant, tomatoes, or chicken
- Cilantro: Avocados, tomatoes, or lime
- Mint: Watermelon, eggplant, feta, or lamb
- Oregano: Artichokes, potatoes, meats, or tomato sauces
Master these tricks for speedy herb prep.
When it comes to prepping best practices, the stems of softer herbs often include great flavor and shouldn’t be tossed. On the other hand, the woodier herbs can make it tough to remove small leaves. Here's how to approach prep for some of our favorite herbs.
- Thyme & Rosemary: Pinch at top and slide fingers down the stem, removing the leaves.
- Dill, parsley, cilantro: Hold by the stems and run your Equal Parts knife on a diagonal outward, shaving off leaves and thin stems. Don’t worry about the thin stems! Just chop them up with the leaves, they’re delicious and full of flavor.
- Chives: Thinly slice crosswise.
- Basil & Mint: Pick large leaves, stack, and chop.