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Mar 21, 2014 06:07 AM

Why are expensive fresh herbs used in most recipes?

This is a personal pet peeve. Why do most recipe posters use fresh herbs instead of dried? OK, they are better in many cases but most people don't want to spend more money on the herbs than they do on the center of the plate item.I was looking @ a roast pork recipe recently that had three fresh herbs listed (rosemary, thyme and oregano). Even if I could find them this time of year they'd be expensive and you'd have perishable leftovers to deal with. I used dried herbs and the roast turned out great.I'm a retired chef and I know how to substitute ingredients in the kitchen but many people follow recipes to the "T". Please give them a break and list both fresh & dried herb options.

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  1. I've been setting aside all tempting recipes that include mint until my plants reappear. Dried mint not always a substitute for fresh. I don't mind if recipes call for fresh as I am comfortable substituting dried if needed. Actually, rosemary and thyme overwinter at my house, DC area, so I *can* use fresh all year long.

    1. You can always reduce the amount and use dried if that's your preference.

      OTOH, it's easy to grow a few indoors or out for snipping when needed. I always have fresh thyme, rosemary, flat leaf parsley on hand, often home grown, but not always.

      1. In the winter I use dried with no qualms; usually store bought but also leftover home grown from the summer, picked around the first frost and dried on my dining room table. I grow them in pots outside the front door, doesn't take much effort at all.

        With spring here, you should think about growing the few types that you might use the most. Not only economical but easy and fun too.

        When I do buy fresh at the grocery, whatever is leftover goes into the freezer before it starts to wilt. You could make a paste out of it if you were cooking a roast, although I usually use it for sauce or soup.

        13 Replies
        1. re: coll

          I tried growing herbs last summer without much success. Most withered in the intense heat we experienced last year. I think my mistake was growing them in pots rather than directly in the ground.They probably got too hot & dry in the smallish containers.

          1. re: zackly

            I put them in medium to large containers, you will get more yield that way plus they won't dry out so quickly. Put them somewhere where there is shade part of the day (mine are on the corner of a covered porch). You do have to be somewhat vigilant about watering, but if you use them on a semi-daily basis you will see when they start to wilt.

            I just got some nice sized, really nice looking ceramic painted pots at the Christmas Tree Store for $3.99; Dollar Stores are also a good source. Maybe we should move this over the the "Gardening" section here ;-)

            1. re: zackly

              I have a small "farmer's porch" out my front door, and a deck off my living room on the opposite side of the house. I've found that the morning sun and afternoon shade on the "porch" is MUCH better for anything I'm growing vs. the deck, which gets very strong afternoon sun.

              So I fully agree on the shaded area. I would water the herbs, lettuce and chives in the morning before I left for work, and they did quite nicely.

              1. re: zackly

                This is starting to move into "Gardening" territory but I had great success with these planter boxes:


                There's a reservoir at the bottom that you fill through a large tube. The herb plants were gargantuan; incredibly large and productive. And being on wheels, it was easy to move around the deck.

                1. re: ferret

                  I'm definitely picking that up if it is available at Canadian Home Depot outlets.

                  I like to give the ideal ingredient for recipes; really part of learning how to cook is knowing what substitutions can work.

                  We must not forget that fresh herbs are a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals. Even in the Montréal winter, I can and do always buy a bunch of flatleaf parsley. It is full of vitamin C and other important nutrients.

                2. re: zackly

                  Practically everything grown in pots is going to need more water than if it's grown in the ground. The solution is water more than once a day when necessary.

                  1. re: zackly

                    I find some herbs do better in heat than others. Parsley is a total loss for me - when it gets hot, no matter what I do the plants turn yellow and stop growing. Mint tends to do poorly, even in shade, and cilantro bolts quickly (plan on getting a single crop and replanting).

                    Basil, thyme, rosemary and oregano do pretty well, if watered enough.

                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                      Agree tastesgwii.....I tried growing cilantro several times. There's about three days where I can get anything off of it before it bolts. I don't know how they produce those bunches at the market for 50 cent. Maybe we should combine our lists for those herbs that are tasteless when dried or needless to dry. And then another list for those conducive to drying. My top picks for not to dry:

                      Epazote - a wonderful turpentine herb that is tepid and listless when dried.

                      Basil - really? I think I'm a good taster but I can't taste this.

                      Rosemary - once you get one established, it grows out of control. It is funny to see people buy packets of rosemary for $2.50 at the market.

                      Oregano - so many types, and as said previously, are very hardy.

                      Chervil - I know it is one of the fines herbs, and "delicate." Hard enough to distinguish in a fines herbes anyhow. I can't grow it, as it bolts quickly on me. Dried tastes like nothing so I gave up on it. I'm all ears if someone has a better experience.

                      Mint - can't taste the dried versions at all (as previously mentioned). I've always wondered if one could use mint oil in the winter.

                      OK (for me) to be dried:

                      Tarragon - can't grow French Tarragon here, I've tried. The dried version still has a hint of the ambiance. We have Texas Tarragon here, which is very easy to grow, but it is a completely unrelated plant. I like having a plant of Texas growing and a packet of dried French.

                      Dill - dill bolts on me pretty quick, and it attracts the butterfly larvae; you can still pull off it for a month or two. Dried dill retains good flavor in my opinion.

                      Thyme - I actually find dried thyme leaves or thyme powder preferable to the leaves. I have two types of thyme, and I'll put bunches in a fish dish, but, say, in soups, it doesn't have the punch that thyme powder has. I remember the Two Fat Ladies saying that you don't need to grow thyme, because you can simply pilfer it from people's porches.

                      Bay leaves - I have bay tree. I have sometimes used dried bay leaves. I don't think that anyone really knows what the hell they taste like anyway.

                      Sage - while easy to grow here in several varieties, a nice almost semi dried sage is good for me if I'm being lazy. Been known to use a bit of dried when it is raining, even though I have out back.

                      1. re: rudeboy

                        Dried basil should be banned under the Geneva Convention. Horrid stuff.

                        1. re: Shazam

                          It doesn't hold a candle to the real thing.
                          Dried herbs are not all made equal.

                          1. re: monavano

                            No, it doesn't, but I'm making a meat sauce right now, and a healthy pinch of both dried basil and oregano went into the sauce. I don't want it overwhelmed with either herb, so the dried works for me in this instance.

                          2. re: Shazam

                            Dried basil is actually like the Geneva Convention - easy to ignore.

                          3. re: rudeboy

                            Herbs that are started from seed to early and experience a cold snap early in life will bolt much sooner then they should.

                    2. I see your point that those three in particular substitute well between dry and fresh, but would agree that many herbs don't? like basil and cilantro and mint and parsley.

                      I guess I just always assume that everybody has a pot of herbs growing somewhere.

                      Shockingly, we dropped down to 9 degrees here in SC this winter on two occasions. Looks like I've lost several "perenniel" herbs like thyme and parsley, so I'll be replanting those soon.

                      22 Replies
                      1. re: danna

                        Me too, still have hope but the mint and parsley don't look like they're coming back this year. Sad.....

                        1. re: coll

                          our mint in the garden comes back every year.....usually the thyme and rosemary as well....and we live in Boston. Well over 50 inches of snow this season and very cold temps. We do nothing special to protect them. However, it does take a long time for them to come back.......May, usually!

                          I've used dried mint successfully in some Greek recipes that specifically called for it, but there's nothing like the fresh mint in salads, appetizers, etc. Kind of like fresh basil vs. dried. Dried is fine in rubs and some stews, but you'll never get that fresh jolt of basil ness from it. Freezing the leftover fresh works if you are going to puree, which I do when we have a big harvest before the frost. I also can't think of anything that can substitute for fresh cilantro.

                          1. re: Madrid

                            Madrid, I'm in Boston as well. You just leave the thyme and rosemary in the garden (or in their pots) and let them "die" or freeze over, and they come back?

                            If yours are in a garden, they're getting a covering (and subsequent melt/watering) of snow and then water, whereas the ones in pots on my front porch have had little to no snow cover, so I suspect mine won't come back.

                            1. re: LindaWhit

                              Mine do, in metro NY. You can't stop mint from coming back. Rosemary, oregano, thyme are very hardy.

                              1. re: mcf

                                Mint, I know, grows like a weed. I knew someone who put what they thought was a dead plant on the edge of the neighboring woods, and the next spring, they smelled mint when they mowed the lawn - it had spread into their grass. :-)

                                mcf, are your pots of herbs sheltered from storms? Again, mine would have gotten some snow cover, but not a lot as if they were in a garden.

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  Yes, I think I mentioned that I place the pots in a 2 foot or so space between our hot tub and a retaining wall for the winter. My Rosemary no so much, but so far, so good.

                              2. re: LindaWhit

                                okay, makes sense about the snow cover. I am not exactly an experienced gardner! We harvest before the first frost and then just leave them be, right in the yard. We'll see what comes back in May. Hope the oregano makes it as well. We did have a rose bush that didn't make it through a very very cold winter about ten years ago, but the herbs, shrubs, peonies, have always come back.

                                1. re: Madrid

                                  Oregano cannot be killed by snow or frost, IME. Let us know!

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    My oregano never comes back but the mint....I only grow chocolate, pineapple, lemon, all the wacky flavors. They always return, like the sparrows to Capistrano.

                                    The only other that comes back is parsley, and chives.

                                2. re: LindaWhit

                                  I'm in Boston too (well, just outside of it) and my thyme is indestructible. Parts of it will die back but then return with a vengeance. You can whack the snow off of the top of your thyme patch and harvest it for your dinner in the deepest of winter.

                                  Rosemary, as I recall, is supposed to be hardy to 25F but depending o your location it might do a little better than that. Mine grows liek gangbusters in the garden and then I dig it up and bring in side for the winter. It lives in the bathroom, which has Southern exposure and the most moisture (I spritz it every so often to keep the moisture up).

                                  My oregano used to come back too but it was too aggressive for me and now I yank it out every year.

                                  1. re: gimlis1mum

                                    I am in Boston as well and this year, I planted one of my robust rosemary plants in the ground. I will see in a few months how it fared. The plant that I brought indoors is dormant but so large that I am able to harvest year round.

                                    1. re: gimlis1mum

                                      Little moisture inside the house, which is why the past two winters, I've failed at the wintering over the rosemary inside the house. I do like the bathroom idea, however, and I could move it to the spare bedroom which gets lots of morning sun in the winter.

                                      Next year.

                                  2. re: Madrid

                                    Madrid and Linda, do you also do chives? I live in Montréal and these have always come back. But this has been a bitter winter in much more southerly parts of eastern North America.

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      Our chives have always come back in Boston. We'll see what happens!

                                      1. re: lagatta

                                        I did chives in a container last summer, lagatta. But it was the first time, so not sure what will happen.

                                        1. re: lagatta

                                          I ran out into the flicker of sunshine this afternoon and noticed that the chives are emerging. Chives, in my experience, are hard to kill :-)

                                          1. re: lagatta

                                            If you break up the clumps every year or two, you can also double or triple your yield.

                                          2. re: Madrid

                                            I prefer dried mint in doogh, a yogurt drink. Fresh is too strong.

                                        2. re: danna

                                          Don't be so sure about thyme and parsley, they might come back. I have both in pots on my deck and they have survived brief periods of very cold weather. If I remember, I put the pots up against the house and throw a blanket over during very cold spells.

                                          1. re: tcamp

                                            I put mine in a protected space between the hot tub and a retaining wall. Fingers crossed. Rosemary thrives even when not well protected, I've found.

                                          2. re: danna

                                            We have thyme and parsley here( the parsley self sows, not truly perennial)in MA and we go down to 10 below regularly.

                                            1. re: danna

                                              I can still get fresh thyme, tarragon, sage and marjoram. I just clear away the snow and am happy. Although many of our herbs can't survive our harsh winters they preserve well.

                                              However there is now 3 feet of snow in the backyard and an even deeper drift over my small garden - that's after a period of thaw. I should be able to get at my plants again sometime next week. Until then we'll happily use dried.

                                            2. Because certain times, IME, the flavor of fresh is superior to dried.

                                              I personally can not imagine pesto made with dried basil. Or for that matter:

                                              A mojito made with dried mint

                                              Meatballs with dried parsley

                                              Leg of lamb with dried rosemary and garlic

                                              just to name a few