Spontaneity is a core value in my kitchen. Let’s talk about one of my most indispensable tricks that make spontaneity and delicious results possible EVERY TIME!
FRESH HERBS: Save time, save money. Flavor guaranteed.
In my mom’s kitchen the idea of seasoning meat and fish with only salt and pepper was sacrilege. It was absolutely unheard of. Meat and fish had to be treated with fresh limes, lemons or vinegar, then marinated with “green seasoning.” As kitchen helper I was responsible for creating jars of “green seasonings” on the weekends using a metal hand grinder fastened to a table in the dining room. We would cut up loads of scallions, onions, garlic, thyme, wiri wiri peppers etc. and process them into a blend that could stay fresh in the refrigerator for months. Thankfully we now have food processors to relieve the need for elbow grease. My herb blends deviate from the traditional blend I grew up with. It has expanded to encompass herbs I’ve come to know and love since living in New York City.
Why make a herb blend?
How many times have you had to throw out the remainder of that parsley bunch or those onions you did not get to use in time? How many times did you walk away from a recipe because there was just too much chopping prep involved? How many times did you think your roasted chicken was missing that little “umph?” Well no more. I was so surprised to learn that herb blends were unheard of by some of my most revered chef friends. Now the secret is out. Grab your food processor and let’s get started because:
- It saves time in the long run (more on this below)
- You reduce food waste by using herbs when they are fresh – before they decay in your fridge.
- Herbs preserve themselves with no degradation in potency – leading to very long fridge life.
- Blends lead to delicious, flavorful meals.
What herbs should I use?
BASIC HERB BLEND: Onion and garlic are the base of every herb blend I create. One jar of garlic and onion mixture could be made with 5 medium sized onions and 2-3 entire heads of garlic. Peel and cut the onions into halves or quarters depending on the size and strength of your food processor. Separate the garlic and peel each feg. Put onion and garlic together in the food professor and pulse until you achieve desired consistency. I usually want to see some little chunks and avoid making a soupy mixture.
Tip: After a few days in the fridge your Basic Herb Blend may change color and become green. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s still as good as new and will keep for as long it lasts.
SIMPLE HERB BLEND: Use 2 medium onions and 1 large head of garlic. Pull the leaves off that head of celery you have in the fridge. Wash and top a bunch of scallions. Cut into 2 inch lengths. If you have chives you can add a bunch to this mixture. Wash and cut into 2 inch lengths. Pull the leaves off a few sprigs (8-10 stems) of fresh thyme. Add all herbs to the food processor and proceed as above.
ADVENTUROUS HERB BLEND (Twisting it up): To the SIMPLE herb mixture add 1 more onion, another 1/2 head of garlic, 2 inches of fresh ginger (peeled and cut into cubes) and 3 sprigs of rosemary – leaves only.
Herbs that I don’t blend
Herbs that I avoid blending into these “everyday” mixtures are:
These have very dominant and distinct flavors that deserve their own moment in the sun in specific recipes. Some chefs may want to avoid rosemary as well. These three herbs are all very easy to grow in container gardens. Just remember to check them daily since butterflies and caterpillars love them as well.
Storing your herb blend
Place your blends into glass jars and label them with the ingredients. You can use mason jars or glass jars that you repurpose from honey or pasta sauce, jams and preserves. I collect glass jars obsessively and use them for all types of storage. Make sure your jar has a lid that fits securely. Glass jars will keep your herb blends very fresh.
How to Use Herb Blends
Marinating Meat, Poultry and Seafood
Fish, shrimp, chicken, pork, beef:- think of your blends as the most elementary step in preparing meat and fish. No doubt there is a bit of investment of brainpower and time upfront, but I promise: your stored herb blends will pay you back dividends in time and flavor. This is especially important now during the global pandemic as it can help to minimize your trips to the supermarket.
- Remove your fresh meat/seafood from the packaging and drain thoroughly
- Lightly rinse the meat/seafood (optional use your discretion)
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the meat/seafood
- Sprinkle the meat/seafood with freshly ground black pepper and salt/seasoning salt (I use Adobo by Goya instead of salt) to coat lightly.
- Spoon out 1-2 tablespoons of your herb blend and stir to coat your meat/seafood thoroughly.
- Immediate Use: Let the meat marinate on your countertop or in the refrigerator for a few hours then prepare according to your recipe.
- Delayed Use: Marinated meat and seafood can keep their integrity in the refrigerator for up to two days;
- Freeze and Defrost: Parcel out your meat in cooking portions and place marinated meat or seafood in vacuum sealed ziploc bags. Freeze for up to 2 months. The herbs will penetrate deep into your meat/seafood. When you are ready to cook, place the frozen meat in a bowl of cold water for a few hours or in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Prepare according to your desired recipe.
Cooking Vegetables and Curry Dishes.
Saute to seal flavors. These herb blends are winners for sauteing vegetables to serve as side dishes or to fold into omelettes. I always saute my vegetables before mixing them into pilaffs – a favorite side dish of mine.
The Simple Blend is essential for making curry dishes – both vegetable and meat curries. I use the herb blend to make a paste with the curry powder before cooking the mixture in hot oil.
Herb blends also liven up roasted vegetables such as zucchini, cauliflower etc… Simply heat your fat (butter, ghee, oil) then toss in from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of herb blend. Let cook lightly and add vegetables before the herbs begin to burn. Toss the vegetables with the herb/butter mixture and then cook to perfection!