When you think of pantry basics, rice, pasta, eggs, spices, oil, vinegar and so on come to mind. How about herbs, fresh, leafy herbs? You might be thinking “Really, herbs?! On the contrary. They can be expensive and half of them rot before I use them!”
In order to make them part of your pantry you have to use them and use them without a recipe telling you to, because most recipes don’t or do so in such tiny quantities that the rest of the bunch is likely to come to a slimy demise in your vegetable bin.
Whether you buy a bunch of fresh herbs when you’re buying your milk, eggs, etc. or you plant some low-maintenance ones–like chives and parsley–in a pot by your front/back door, the return on investment can be big. When it comes to flavor, nutrients, and color, herbs are simply the best! Herbs like parsley and cilantro pack an anti-oxidant, mineral, and vitamin-rich punch. I started using lots of herbs in my cooking because they added so much flavor to simple dishes. And since they were growing in my tiny garden they were always just there and free and why I got so used to using them. So when I was out of lettuce for my son’s sandwich once I put parsley on it instead. (He still loves parsley and asks for it now.)
Mediterranean cuisines bring us herb-rich pestos and sauces and Persian and Middle Eastern foods are packed with mint, parsley, cilantro, dill and more. Beyond these classics, I like to take a cook-with-what-you-have approach to using them because I do think of them as part of my pantry.
- Shower them on bowls of leftover rice, along with a fried egg and hot sauce
- Blend 1 cup of parsley into a few tablespoons of tahini with some lemon juice, garlic, water and salt for a beautiful and delicious sauce for roasted vegetables, grilled meats, salads, grains or beans
- Add them to quesadillas or burritos
- Stir into mac and cheese or most any pasta dish
- Layer on sandwiches instead of or in addition to lettuce
- Get creative with the pesto method; use parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds or cilantro and walnuts
Spring is the time to plant these hardy herbs like parsley, chives, and mint. And when it’s warm enough basil, cilantro, dill etc. You’ll have your “living” pantry always at the ready and for a fraction of the cost, as the plants will produce for many months.
So, use those herbs you buy or plant. Experiment, have fun, ask yourself “why not add a handful of dill to this salad or stir into those scrambled eggs or top that bowl of soup?”