Sidelined for years, fresh herbs reclaim place in the kitchen

We are living in the era of the herb. Restaurant menus boast of herbal ingredients, and supermarkets display flowery bunches of basil, dill, tarragon and chives right next to good old parsley.

That spritely sprig of parsley, which used to be just decorative, is not simply a “pretty face” — it can turn a lackluster dish into one that shines.

I often decide to make matzah ball soup at the last minute: Streit’s or Manischewitz mix to the rescue! To make the matzah balls taste fresher and flavor the batter, I add a handful of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, chives), and nobody is the wiser.

Herb cookery is not exactly new. American cooking has long emphasized the role of herbs, but mass production of food in the past century diminished the importance of fresh ingredients. Today, the emphasis on local, fresh and seasonal ingredients makes possible flavors and aromas that processed foods can never deliver.

Herbs have always been available in dried form, but for many years cooks seeking fresh herbs either had to grow their own or shop in an ethnic neighborhood.

Preserving the freshness of herbs requires special storage. For chopped fresh herbs, make sure they are dry before placing a few stemless bunches in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Place in a paper towel–lined container, seal and refrigerate. They should last about 10 days.

For bunches of fresh herbs, wrap in paper towels and refrigerate in a resealable bag. The exception is basil, which will turn black if refrigerated. Instead, place in a small container with about an inch of water, and cover leaves with a small plastic bag.


Bulghur Salad with Parsley and Mint

Serves 6-8

12 oz. bulghur (cracked wheat)

1⁄2 cup raisins

1⁄2 cup dried apricots, chopped

6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1⁄2 cup olive oil

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 small red onion, diced

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh mint

salt and pepper

In a large bowl, soak bulghur in cold water to cover for 1 hour. Drain well and return to  bowl. Stir in raisins and apricots. Whisk together lemon juice, oil, cinnamon, cumin and onion. Add to bulghur. Stir in parsley and mint until well combined. Taste for salt and pepper.


Chicken with Mixed Herbs and Dried Cherries

Serves 6-8

1 cup dried pitted cherries

1 cup hot water

11⁄2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper

3 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped

1⁄2 tsp. turmeric

1 cup chopped fresh chives

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 cups chicken stock

In a medium bowl, soak cherries in hot water for 1 hour.

Pound chicken breasts to flatten slightly and cut into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat oil. Cook chicken until opaque and starting to color, about 7 minutes.

With slotted spoon, remove to a bowl or platter. In same skillet, cook onion until soft. Stir in herbs and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, cherries and soaking water. Allow to boil until slightly thickened. Add chicken and simmer another 10 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper. Serve over rice or couscous.

Louise Fiszer
is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected]