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5 Herbs Every Chef Loves

Most chefs will reveal that regardless of season, fresh herbs are their go-to culinary tools for boosting flavor to any dish without adding fat or calories. Home cooks can enjoy the same benefits of herbs, particularly if you know which ones complement which flavors. Here are five popular herbs to enhance the foods you love (and maybe help you experiment with ones you don’t).

  • Mint.Versatile because it brings out the best in both sweet and savory dishes, mint grows easily in your garden (though it has a habit of self populating in both sun and shade even where you didn’t plant it). Italians pair it with fresh peas and in salads with pole or fava beans. Try it chopped and tossed in a fruit salad of fresh pineapple and blueberries or mix with couscous for a Mediterranean flair...and don’t forget it as a perfect garnish for iced tea.
  • Basil. Basil’s best summer appearance is during the height of tomato season when it is layered with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes in a Caprese salad. Slightly mineral tasting, basil is a surprising addition to cooked fruit sauces, fresh green salads, or as a last-minute garnish for pizzas or pastas. For an anytime twist on a traditional sandwich, roll your favorite chicken salad in the largest basil leaves you can find. The freshness will surprise you. Basil is also the go-to herb for pesto’s bright flavor.
  • Parsley. Inexpensive and typically found in grocery stores year round, one bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley can flavor in so many ways. Pureed with olive oil and lemon juice, it becomes a light sauce for fish. Try adding parsley into salads with basil, mint and dill, or mix it into butter for a finishing touch to a well-prepared steak. If you like parsley’s earthy, grassy flavor, its uses in your kitchen are endless.
  • Chives. Although typically an herb for savory dishes, nearly everything is enhanced with a sprinkle of chives. Chives have a light oniony smell and taste, and can be chopped or literally snipped with kitchen scissors as a last-minute addition to the tops of soups, dips and spreads; as a plate garnish; or as an addition to meat and vegetable dishes.
  • Dill. Like chives, dill makes a statement when used sparingly as a plate garnish because of its feathery fronds. Best when combined with butter and lemon juice for a simple marinade for salmon, swordfish or other white fish, dill makes a terrific salad when tossed with greens, roasted almonds and red peppers; it complements chicken; and it makes a tasty dressing for paper-thin onion and cucumber slices when combined with vinegar and sugar for a quick brine.