Cooking with Fresh Herbs: 101

Cooking with Fresh Herbs:  101

Want to know what elevates a good dish to a great one? Herbs–particularly fresh ones. Fresh herbs are essential to the cooking process. Throw them in your marinade, add to your cooking or braising liquid, or sprinkle them atop your final product at the end of the cooking process. Complete game changer.

Fresh herbs are great flavor boosters: they enhance the flavors of other ingredients and brighten flavor notes of their own. Plus, fresh green herbs pack a nutritional punch and add appetizing color accents to your food.

Beginner cooks (and even more seasoned ones!) find cooking with fresh herbs intimidating and wonder what to buy, which herb goes with what, and how on earth to prepare and store these little green treasures. If you’re in that number, we suggest starting with a few basic herbs and making them a part of your cooking routine. As you get more comfortable, you can add more herbs to your repertoire.

Vicky, picking fresh herbs from her garden.

Our five favorite herbs

There are tons of great herbs out there. And while we love experimenting with new herbs, there are a few favorites that we recommend keeping on hand at all times (especially if you’re a Spoonful follower–we call for these very often).


Parsley is the first of our go-to herbs that we use all the time in our cooking. Sprinkle this delicate herb freely on just about everything you make. This herb is especially tasty in green salsas & sauces, marinades, salad dressings and atop the final product of just about any dish.

Some of our favorite recipes with Parsley include Steak Kabobs with Chimichurri, Green Goddess Dressing, & Lemon Garlic Marinated Chicken Thighs.


Cilantro is an absolute essential to any South of the Border dish. Sprinkle fresh chopped cilantro over tacos, enchiladas, nachos & more. Vicky always keeps this herb in her fridge in a mason jar with about an inch of water.

Check out our Vicky’s Famous Guacamole, Flank Steak Grill with Garlic-Cilantro Marinade and our Mexican Fiesta Black Bean Salad for some cilantro-forward recipes

How to Cut & Prep Parsley and Cilantro

To prep Parsley & Cilantro herbs, cut off the thick stems at the bottom, roll them up in a tight ball in your hand, and slice through them with a sharp knife (it’s got to be sharp, people). Then take your knife and roll it back and forth in the mound of herbs until you have tiny pieces.

To make it even easier, use these amazing herb cutters and avoid all the hassle. Simply snip the cilantro or parsley in perfectly sized pieces onto plates and pans.


Basil is Marion’s favorite herb. We love it in salads like Caprese, in combination with fresh tomatoes, but especially in pesto. Add chopped fresh basil to any salad, including chicken and pasta salads.

If you’re a basil lover like us, try our Sweet Tomato Pie, Fried Eggplant with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil or our fabulous Basil Pesto.


Rosemary is another herb we use often. It’s a stronger herb and should be used more sparingly than parsley, cilantro or basil. When making stews, soups or braised meats, place a couple of sprigs of rosemary in the cooking or braising liquid. Remove the sprigs when you’re finished cooking. We especially enjoy using rosemary in cooking oils to infuse a dish.

Check out our Rosemary Infused Ribeyes and our Cast-Iron Pork Chops with Apples & Onions for two of our favorite dishes that incorporate rosemary.


Thyme is another strong herb, and one of our favorites. This is a classic French herb that also has a stronger flavor than the more delicate parsley or cilantro. Sprigs of thyme added to the cavity of a roast chicken make for a tremendous flavor booster. It’s also our go-to for deliciously comforting homemade marinara. You can also pinch off the leaves and add to to any baked, sautéd or roasted dish calling for chicken pieces.

For dishes that use thyme, see our Fettuccini with Roasted Tomato & Garlic Butter Sauce, Classic Meatballs & Spaghetti and our Spicy Italian Sausage with Bell Peppers & Onions.

How to Cut & Prep Rosemary & Thyme

Hold the rosemary or thyme sprig at the top and run your fingers down the spine against the direction the leaves are growing to remove the leaves.  Chop the rosemary leaves after they are removed, you don’t need to chop the thyme leaves. If the thyme is delicate, you may have to pinch the leaves off. Sprinkle the leaves over pork tenderloin or pork chops, or in a nice sauce like our Spaghetti & Meatballs.

What’s the best way to get fresh herbs?

  • Grow your own. Nothing beats growing your own herbs and it’s so easy. Plant them either in a patch of earth in your yard that gets sun part of the day or in clay pots outside or on the window sill in your kitchen. Don’t forget to water them at least every other day. Most herbs are easy to grow and will be there when you need them. Plus, you can snip off as much or as little as you need!
  • In a jar of water. Certain herbs last for weeks in a jar stored in your refrigerator. Simply add about an inch of water to a mason jar, cut the ends of the herbs, and store in the jar as you would flowers. This works especially great for cilantro & parsley.
  • Indoor Herb Planters. Even if you live in an apartment or condo without any outdoor space or indoor sunlight, you can grow herbs indoors. Purchase an Indoor Herb Garden to grow tons of fresh herbs in the comfort of your own home, preferably in the kitchen.
  • At the Farmers Market or Grocery. We’ll preface this by saying that a local farmer’s market will offer herbs that are far fresher than any you can get in a supermarket. If buying at the supermarket, look for herbs that retain a fresh, bright color. Don’t buy wilted, bruised, or dried out herbs, it’s a waste of time and money. Rinse them when you get home (swish gently in a bowl of water and pat or air dry) and store immediately.

Are you saying I should never use dried herbs?

No, of course not! There is always a place for dried herbs, especially if you are using high quality brands. But almost any dish can be improved by adding a fresh herb, if only as a topping at the end of cooking.  We do caution against using some dried herbs, such as dried basil, parsley, cilantro and chives. These delicate herbs don’t do well in the drying process and lose much of their flavor.

If you are using fresh herbs in place of a recipe that calls for dried herbs, remember that it will take almost twice as much of the fresh herb to make up the flavor of the dried herb. Dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor than their fresh counterparts. So, for example, if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of dried thyme, you’ll need to add at 1 ½ teaspoons of the fresh thyme.

Must Haves for Cooking with Fresh Herbs