Fresh new ways to use up all those summer herbs
Since recipes often call for a small amount, here’s how to use those extra herbs, and how to handle ‘em right
This article was originally posted August 2, 2018 and was updated July 8, 2020.
If the warmer weather's got you like "WOW" (finally!), chances are you're as excited for fresh, in-season, summer produce as we are, like herbs. Whether you're growing them in your backyard yourself, which even you urbanites can do, or grabbing bundles from the store, ingredients like fresh mint, dill, and oregano add a key flavour to oh-so-summer food.
Yet the abundance of the season comes with a perplexing situation. What to do with all the excess? With many recipes calling for one or two tablespoons of fresh herbs, you'll most likely find yourself with handfuls more than you know what to do with. Sure, pesto usually uses a whole whack of basil and even if it doesn't, you've got enough smarts to throw the rest in a salad, but what about the others? Mint, dill, oregano? Mint pesto anyone? It's possible.
We've gathered a bunch of great recipes that'll give you some great new ways to use up those extra herbs while reducing food waste and taking full advantage of the harvest. But first, a refresher on how to treat 'em right.
Get with the herb
Herbs are helpful companions in the kitchen. They allow you to balance and boost the flavour of your dishes, reducing the need for extra salt. There are two types of herbs; watery and oily. Chives, parsley, tarragon and cilantro, are all examples of watery herbs. Their flavours don't stand up well to heat, so add them during the last 15 minutes of cooking, or add them fresh to your food with no cooking at all. Thyme, rosemary, marjoram and oregano are all examples of oily herbs. Heat helps release their aromatic oils so don't be afraid to pop a twig or two into a sauce and let them simmer.
Fresh herbs deteriorate when they use up their limited stored water and are removed from their food supply — the soil. Watch this video on how to properly chop and store them, and remember to treat all fresh herbs as you would freshly-cut flowers.
If you're buying herbs at farmers markets, make sure you purchase them from a well-shaded stall where they haven't been sitting out in the sun all day. If they're hot to the touch and wilting, find others that have been treated with a little more care. As soon as you get home, remove the rubber bands or ties and any damaged leaves or stems.
Quick and interesting uses
Speaking of flowers, try placing a few sprigs into your summer floral arrangements — they add a whole new dimension of scent!
Also, keep an all-herb bouquet in a vase by your sink and use a sprig or two to infuse your tap water for an on-trend summer drink.
Chiffonade herbs as shown in this video.
Drag your hands backwards along the stem to pluck leaves. This works especially well with thyme.
Remove leaves easily from herbs like parsley and cilantro by holding the plant upside down and running a fork through them, or lightly shaving them off with a sharp knife.
Mince herbs using a rocking motion, holding the tip of the knife in one hand and the handle in the other. Add a pinch of salt if your knife is slipping to create a little friction. If you're cutting them to use as a garnish, you want to chop them really, really fine.
Process large bunches of herbs in a food processor, but make sure they're completely dry first (a salad spinner works well for larger leaves) otherwise you'll end up with a wet herb paste. Although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Mix the paste with a little oil and freeze in ice cube trays for a boost of last-minute flavour in your soups and sauces.
Cool new ways to use those herbs
Now that you know the basics, let's get down to how to really use them. And while we could throw a tabbouleh recipe your way so you can use up that parsley, we're going to push you to get a little more creative. Like how about this pesto that's made with mint and breadcrumbs? Here are more new ways to use up the extra herbs you find yourself with.
Start your morning off right with this vegan mint milkshake that calls for a big handful of fresh mint leaves.
Or, if you're a savoury breakfast fan, bake up a batch of these Cheddar and Herb Breakfast Buns. Perfect for lazy weekend mornings, or a make-ahead batch breakfast you can grab on the go all week.
A generous amount of basil flavours the dressing in this summery salad. Topped off with some lightly grilled calamari, it's a standout dinner.
Mince up fresh parsley for a zesty gremolata to use for these cheesy Stuffed Shells.
Chop up an entire bunch of cilantro for this Fresh Pineapple Salsa, used to top off these drool-worthy Slow Cooked Lamb Burgers.
Liven up lamb shanks with a bouquet garni, a flavour bundle of fresh herbs.
Employ a whole cup each of chopped cilantro and flat leaf parsley in the spicy chimichurri sauce for this pork loin roast. Or opt for a slight variation and add in some basil to make a chimichurri for a BBQ chicken.
Incorporate bunches and bunches of fresh herbs into this Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi for a make-ahead stew that tastes just like summer.
Put an entire bunch of cilantro to good use in Albacore Tartare, a ceviche-style summery starter.
Salmon and dill is truly a perfect pairing. Use up some of that fresh dill to top a Salmon Brandade. Or, the next time you're entertaining, opt for an app such as these Smoked Salmon Potato Bites, where dill plays a bigger part as a standout ingredient in the mascarpone filling.
Up your summer picnic game with this quick and delicious Sweet Pea and Ricotta Dip that calls for a healthy amount of fresh mint.
Sizzle up lots of sage leaves for this simple Brown Butter Sage Sauce. It pairs perfectly with light and fluffy Ricotta Gnudi, which can be made ahead and frozen for super quick and convenient comfort food.
Get creative by serving your summer drinks garnished with fresh-snipped herbs. Try it out with this recipe for Rose Passion Fruit Spritzer here, and then create your own combos by experimenting all summer long.
Mint and parsley add a new dimension to regular ol' pesto in this mixed-herb version from Chef Massimo Bottura. Sure, these noodles wear it well, but try it out too on shrimp or vegetables.
Ample amounts of fresh parsley, dill and cilantro in a Green Tomato Relish, which can be used to make Lobio, a vegan version of the quintessential Georgian dish that everyone will want to dip into.
The amount of herbs used to make Kuku Sabzi — Herb and Walnut Frittata — is impressive, and they complement the eggs beautifully. This frittata-like treat can also be enjoyed the next day, sandwiched between slices of sourdough bread, with a smear of salty butter and crunchy pickle slices.
Featuring four cups of fresh herbs, this Sabzi Polow — Fragrant Herbed Rice — is the perfect accompaniment for fish.
A celebratory dish that looks superb yet is so easy to prepare, Mahi — Sea Bass with Cilantro and Walnut Relish — uses up a whole cup of fresh coriander you've got on hand.
Use up an entire bunch of mint leaves and make this sweet and soothing Apple-Mint Tea to sip on all summer and into fall.
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.