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The Vegan Street to Preserving Herbs


Because planting 14 varieties of basil seemed like a great idea in March. Now, not so much.



If you spent a lot of this past horrible, interminable winter flipping through seed catalogs and dreaming of mojitos and pesto, as I did, you might be confronted right now, as I am, with a surfeit of grandiose, bulked-up herbs that are crowding each other out as they vie for your attention and threaten to revolt (a.k.a., flower). Do you wake up in a cold sweat wondering what to do with all that &*^% rosemary? Have you ever felt that you’ve let your cilantro down? Has your sage seen better days? Then you might need to get started doing something about it, my friend. In a month or so, we will cover drying fresh herbs, but for now, we’re going to address extending the life of your herbs (or at least your use of them) through your fridge and freezer.





Refrigeration

This is a way to extend the use of fresh herbs for the short term. With the exception of a few herbs that are damaged by the cold of refrigeration (basil comes to mind), you can keep fresh herbs going at least a week and sometimes more simply by maintaining a practice of simple managed care in your fridge. After snipping off your herbs at the bottom of the stems, you can store in a glass filled with enough water for the stem ends, cover loosely with a plastic bag and use the herbs as you need them, changing the water every couple of days. Fresh herbs that are damaged by the cold, such as basil, can be stored this way at room temperature. With proper changing of the water, they can be stored for up to two weeks this way. Washing them as you use them instead of before will also help to extend their freshness.







Another refrigeration method that works even better at extending the freshness of herbs and is especially useful for when you have a lot is storing them in airtight containers with a damp kitchen towel that is changed every few days. I’ve kept herbs fresh this way for two to three weeks without a problem. This is easier for those of us who are nervous of knocking over glasses in the fridge.





Freezing

For the herbs you want to be able to use months from now, freezing may be your best option. For harder herbs with woody stems and smaller leaves like rosemary, thyme and oregano, freezing them whole on the stem might be your best option. Cut on the stem where the leaves begin, rinse, dry, and freeze on a cookie sheet or other flat surface. After freezing for 24 hours, place them in individual, labeled freezer bags for easy use whenever you want them. Once frozen, they can be removed from the stem by rolling over the leaves with a rolling pin.

For softer herbs like basil, mint, and cilantro, the ice cube method might be your best strategy for keeping them for an extended time. Rinse, remove from the stems, and process with a liquid like water, broth or oil in a food processor. (I used broth: the issue with oil in addition to the calories is there are some herbs, like mint, you will likely not want to cook with oil.) Spoon into your ice cube tray, freeze for at least 24 hours, then pop out and place in labeled freezer bags. These herb cubes are great to use in soups, stews, sauces and more in the months ahead.






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