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LUMBERTON – Cooking summer vegetables with fresh herbs is a delicious twist on summer produce. With the Robeson County Farmers Market now open, along with other produce stalls across the county, this is a great time to explore the culture and / or cuisine with fresh herbs. Whether you’re planting your own or buying them at the farmer’s market or the grocery store, adding fresh herbs is a quick way to turn ordinary meals into extraordinary meals.

In addition to helping flavor foods when reducing salt, fat, and sugar, herbs can provide additional benefits. Researchers are finding that many culinary herbs (fresh and dried) contain antioxidants that may help protect against diseases such as cancer and heart disease. A pinch of a fresh herb in a dish also instantly gives the appearance a boost!

Unless otherwise specified in your recipe, add more delicate herbs such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley and mint a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them over them. food just before serving. Less delicate herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be added during the last 20 minutes of cooking. A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to triple the amount you would use of a dried herb. When substituting, you will often be more successful by replacing fresh herbs with dried herbs rather than the other way around. For example, think of the potato salad with fresh parsley or dried parsley!

Buy herbs close to when you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden, the ideal time for picking is in the morning after the dew has dried up but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best quality of flavor and storage. Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper for a few days. If you do not have access to store-bought perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.

If you have more herbs than you can eat, enjoy herb bouquets throughout the house. You can use single herbs, combinations of herbs, or you can use the herbs as a greenery mixed with other flowers. To help preserve the aroma and color of your herb bouquets, place them out of direct sunlight.

One of my difficulties in using fresh herbs is knowing the best combinations. Here are some suggestions;

– Basil is excellent with tomatoes and excellent in fresh pesto.

– Chives can be added to dips, potatoes and tomatoes.

– Cilantro is used for salsas and tomatoes and used in Mexican, Asian and Caribbean cuisine.

– Dill enhances the flavors of carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes.

– Mint is often used in carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, tabbouleh and teas.

– Oregano adds flavor to peppers and tomatoes.

– Parsley – curly leaf is most common, but flat leaf or Italian parsley is more strongly flavored and often preferred for cooking. Natural products for parsley include potato salad, tabbouleh, and egg salad sandwiches.

– Rosemary is often used on chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews and tomatoes.

– Sage can enhance beef, chicken, potatoes, pork, carrots and summer squash.

– Thyme is often used with eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash and tomatoes.

Adapted from Fresh Herbs: A Picture of Healthy Eating by the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension.

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