Thursday, August 23, 2012

Herbs, part III

Fresh herbs are wonderful to use when they are fresh, but many of them are equally good (or better) when dried.  Two of my favorite herbs to dry are thyme and oregano.  The flavor really intensifies in these when you dry them, and I find myself using them a lot in recipes during the colder months.  Thyme pairs so well with mushrooms, which we eat a lot of, and oregano is a wonderful addition to any Italian or Mexican meal.
I recommend buying "Greek oregano," whether seed or transplant.  It supposedly has the strongest flavor.

Here is my technique for drying herbs:

1.  Pick the herbs, on stems if possible.
2.  Wash.
3.  Tie into a bundle and hang to dry.
4.  Label a brown paper lunch bag with the name of the herb.
5.  When the herbs have dried off (not dried out, but just dried off from the washing), place the bundle inside the paper bag.
6. Secure (you can use staples, paper clips, tape, more string.... whatever) so that the bundle can now still hang upside down, but contained in the bag.
7.  Hang in a cool, dry place.  My basement works great.
8.  The secret of the bag is twofold: a) you can let it hang forever and it won't attract dust or spider webs or anything else gross.  This is important because you can't really wash the herbs when they are dry (it kind of defeats the purpose of drying them out!), and b) the bag will catch any little pieces (especially handy with thyme).
9.  When you are ready to use these herbs or place them into another container, you can just kind of crunch them in the bag until they fall off the stems, then pour it into your container of choice.
10.  I am sure there is a time limit out there somewhere for dried herbs, but I've used them for a year with no loss of flavor or anything.  Note that I am not a food scientist so this is perhaps not the best guideline to follow!  

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