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Guide to Basic Herbs

Eight fresh ways to amp up your favorite dishes

If your knowledge of herbs begins and ends with Snoop Dogg, it's time to expand your culinary arsenal. Fresh herbs are an easy (and usually cheap) way to whip up quick dishes or liven up favorite recipes.

"There's no more important way to improve the flavor of healthy foods than learning how to cook with the right herbs," says celeb chef and MF adviser Emeril Lagasse. Here are a few tips to get you started.

BASIL

A staple in Italian cooking, sweet basil leaves are the main ingredient in homemade pesto sauce. You can also mix with mozzarella and sliced tomatoes for a simple salad, or to use as the topping on a classic margherita pizza.

CILANTRO

This peppery herb is popular in Mexican and Asian cuisines. Chop its tender leaves to add zest to guacamole or salsa, or drop it in at the last minute before serving chili at your next tailgate.

CHIVES

Dice these long, hollow stems to add a mild, oniony flavor to soups, salads, omelets, dips, and baked potatoes.

PARSLEY

Flat-leaf parsley adds robust flavor to pasta and potatoes, yet it's mild enough to mix with other chopped herbs or even into a salad. As with cilantro, you should throw this herb in toward the end of cooking to preserve its rich flavor.

ROSEMARY

This aromatic herb is great with chicken and pork. Stuff a whole chicken with a few sprigs of rosemary and lots of garlic cloves to flavor a roasted bird inside and out. Or chop up some rosemary leaves and mix with Dijon mustard for an easy marinade for pork tenderloins.

OREGANO

This slightly pungent herb pairs well with roast beef, lamb, and spaghetti sauce. For steak, try making a wet oregano rub—salt, pepper, chopped oregano leaves, and a bit of olive oil—and smear it over the meat before cooking.

DILL

Yes, it's good for more than just pickles. This spicy herb is perfect for seafood dishes. A little bit of dill and a few lemon slices are also ideal for flavoring fish.

MINT

How versatile is this herb? Well, it's not only great in salads, Middle Eastern dishes, desserts, even cocktails—you can also chew leaves to naturally freshen your stank breath.

Bonus Tips

  • Buying: Look for brightly colored leaves with a strong aroma. Avoid anything that is limp and yellow, has black spots, or doesn't smell fresh.
  • Storing: Most herbs will keep for 5 to 10 days in the fridge. To extend their life, remove fasteners and trim away stems, which suck moisture from the leaves.
  • Washing: Don't get leaves wet until just before cooking them. They'll wilt. To clean, swish in cold water, blot dry with a paper towel.
  • Cooking: For a mild flavor, add herbs earlier in prep. For a more potent taste, add them just before serving.

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