These 7 Simple Herbs Make Everyday Meals Feel Special
As a kid, I remember curly parsley perched on the side of my plate and my mom instructing me, "You don't eat that part. It's garnish." Now, I grow that same variety of curly parsley and use it to season my cooking regularly, and not just for plating aesthetics.
Using fresh herbs, especially for medicinal purposes, has been in practice for tens of thousands of years. While the earliest humans had to do a lot of trial and error, we in modern times are fortunate enough to know which herbs are not only safe to consume, but which pair best with which foods. In the last 20 years especially, fresh herbs have become more widely available at grocery stores as home cooks expand their culinary horizons and drive up demand.
Incorporating fresh herbs into everyday recipes is a quick and inexpensive way to enhance the look and taste of even the simplest dishes, adding bright color and intensifying flavors — and making dining at home feel like dining out. And the bonus is, you don't have to use exotic, hard-to-find herbs to make restaurant-quality dishes. Read on to get ideas for using seven of our favorite easy-to-find fresh herbs, and take your homecooked meals to the next level.
7 Simple Herbs to Start Adding to Your Meals Right Now
Flavor profile: sweet, sharp, refreshing, crisp
Mint has a lightly sweet flavor that leaves a cooling sensation in your mouth. Often associated with chewing gum or mint chip ice cream, mint is great in more than just sweets. It pairs well with cheeses like goat cheese or feta, and salty foods like black olives or pickled red onions. Mint complements the sweet and savory ingredients in watermelon salad, and it's absolutely indispensable in fizzy mojitos.
Flavor profile: sweet, hints of licorice, peppery, summery
Similar to mint, basil is an herb that carries a natural sweetness which allows it to be paired with sweet or savory foods. It works especially well with pasta both cooked into sauces, ground into pesto, and used as a garnish on top. Due to its natural sweet, peppery flavor it creates a beautiful pairing with naturally acidic tomato sauces. In desserts it goes especially well with berries, and we love it in this basil cake with balsamic strawberries.
Flavor profile: clean, bright, acidic, lemony
Parsley has become my most used herb over the last year. Because of its sharp, acidic flavor it's amazing at cutting through fat and spice. We cook a lot of Cajun food and now that I've started adding fresh parsley on top of these dishes, I'll never eat them without it. There's nothing like biting into a spicy, earthy spoonful of red beans and rice that's topped with a sprinkle of fresh, crisp parsley. Absolute perfection! It's similar to how a squeeze of lemon balances a fatty piece of fish, or a squeeze of lime cuts through the heat of spicy tacos. It can also be added to smoothies for a unique flavor addition and beautiful bright green color.
- Try this recipe: Tabbouleh II
- Bonus tip: Everything You Need to Know About Cooking With Parsley
- More: Browse recipes made with parsley
Flavor profile : earthy, robust, grassy
If you love New York style pizza, then you are an oregano fan. While several elements make up a New York style pizza, oregano is that one ingredient that defines it. With its bold, earthy flavor it pairs best with rich, savory foods that contain an acidic component like tomatoes or lemon. That's why we love it in pasta or pizza sauces and lemony oregano chicken.
Flavor profile: aromatic, hints of pine, bold
In my opinion, rosemary is the most beautiful of all the herbs. With its long, bright green branches it especially looks lovely on anything with a "forest" or "winter" theme. It has a very aromatic woodsy scent with a bold peppery flavor that leaves a gorgeous bitter pine-like finish in your mouth. Because of these qualities it pairs particularly well with beef dishes. We love how it brightens and elevates steaks, roasts, and burgers. Just add some to the cooking pot or top your finished dish with a few of the leaves.
- Try this recipe: Rosemary Steak
- Bonus tip: How to Make Rosemary Simple Syrup for Drinks and Desserts
- More: Browse recipes made with rosemary.
Flavor profile: bright, citrusy, oniony
Cilantro is the most controversial herb out there. Many folks taste an unpleasant soapy flavor when they eat it, but to others it's delicious. Because of its citrusy, oniony flavor, it goes really well with Southwest-style dishes like tacos, nachos, and chili. It's also an essential ingredient in homemade salsa, giving it its signature flavor. To keep the flavor at its best and avoid wilting the delicate leaves, be sure to add it right before serving.
Flavor profile: oniony, mild, sharp
Chives are a mildly flavored grass-like herb that tastes like an onion. It's best to use them in their raw form, as prolonged cooking can zero out most of their flavor. Just like onions, chives pair great with buttery, fatty dishes like mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, rich soups, and as a mix-in for cream cheese. I especially love substituting chives in place of raw garlic for a milder flavor, especially on date night when I want my breath to be a little fresher.
- Try this recipe: Sour Cream and Chives Mashed Potatoes
- Bonus tip: How to Use Chive Blossoms to Brighten up Summer Dishes
- More: Browse recipes made with chives.
Herb Combos to Try
To figure out which herbs you enjoy, it can help to try them individually raw so you can get a sense of the flavor of each one and decide how it might best enhance your dishes. Get creative and try mixing fresh herbs together for even more robust flavors. Some of our favorite pairings are:
Whether they come from your local grocery store, the farmers market, or your garden, fresh herbs are a cheap and easy way to make any homecooked meal feel extra special.