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It is a very common occurrence for many of us: you open your vegetable bin in the fridge and find a soggy bag of some unknown brown sludge that was once a bundle of fresh herbs. It is disappointing because not only do you no longer have some great fresh herbs to add flavor and depth to your meal, but you only purchased it a few days ago and it has already gone bad! This can lead you to feel guilty about the food waste and to not purchase fresh herbs in the future. Possibly you’ll vow to build an herb garden green house? Some day. Well, until then, I have a way you can store some herbs aside from drying them. For drying herbs, checkout some ideas for dehydrator and hang-drying options in your favorite search engine, as there are many. We’ll be focusing on freezing freshly cleaned herbs in ice cube trays and keeping fresh herbs fresh in your refrigerator.
The reason I like to store my herbs these ways is mainly because I can either throw them in whole, or chopped, or even puree them which gives me more options for use than dried herbs do. You can certainly rehydrate dehydrated herbs, but the taste is a bit different than fresh or frozen and keeping a variety on hand will make meal preparation a breeze. Freezing and drying both dull the color of your herbs (as you can see in the ice cube pictures), but I personally find the taste of the frozen herbs a lot closer to freshly cut herbs, and I love this for soups and salads, bean patties, and spreads on breads 😉
Let’s start with instructions on how to make the ice cubes. You can make any shape you wish and almost any serving size you wish by purchasing silicone ice cube trays. These are very versatile and I use them for freezing blended fruits (whole limes and lemons), fruit juices (lime, lemon, orange), zest in water, herbs in water, and even pomegranate seeds in water (when our tree has a good year). You can freeze just small 1-2 teaspoon amounts, or larger 1 oz. portions (as pictured above). When freezing herbs in water, you can easily thaw them and drain before use, or just toss them into your recipe that allows for the extra water, such as soups, stews and casseroles. The process of freezing herbs is very simple:
- Begin by sorting through your herb bunches and removing damaged, soggy, brown leaves and stems.
- Wash and dry them well.
- Peel off all the leaves you plan to freeze, removing them completely from the stem. Save the stems to put down your garbage disposal to make your kitchen smell fresh and summery! Or keep them to make homemade vegetable stock. If you don’t have time to do it now, then keep a big freezer bag of items you can boil a stock with later (carrots, onions, garlic, carrot tops, herbs, etc.).
- Place as many leaves as you wish into the silicone ice cube trays. You can easily fit 10-20 cilantro or parsley leaves into a 1 oz serving. If you wish to make some small servings, place 5-10 smaller leaves in the well and only fill with a couple teaspoons of water for smaller recipes.
- Next, fill with as much water as you wish. You can also freeze in broth, but you may not want this taste for later which is why I only use water. Some people will freeze in olive oil, which is also an option. Since I focus this blog mostly on low-fat plant-based meals, we’ll stick with water.
- Place the trays carefully in a flat surface in your freezer and allow to set.
- Remove the trays when cubes are frozen and put the cubes into labeled bags for easier storage.
Next, let’s talk about storing fresh herbs in your refrigerator for easy use. It is important to put them in a prominent place so that you remember to use them! One way to increase your intake of healthy foods and decrease your intake of junky foods is to keep the healthy ones visible and the unhealthy ones out of sight. Trust me, this really works. Preparing fresh herbs is an easy process and can be done simultaneously as preparing those you plan to freeze. Simply:
- Take washed and dried herbs still on their stem and arrange them as best you can so that stem lengths are even across the bottom.
- Wet a paper towel very well and wrap the bottom of the bunch of stems.
- Place each bunch in a small snack sized ziplock bag. Secure the bag around the bunch with a rubber band.
- Place this in a glass jar.
- Repeat with your other fresh herbs; store in the same jar for ease.
- Store in your refrigerator for 5-10 days. Replace the wet paper towel every 3 days.
I use paper towels and plastic bags to prevent big spills should the jar get knocked over and because I often have jars around for food storage. I also just rinse out and reuse the bags. You can, however, use silicone bags or plastic containers or even a mug. It is up to you. The main things you need to do are wash, dry, and bundle before placing in a water source. You can also purchase fancy herb storage devices online. The benefits of these herb keepers are that the herbs can last for weeks. This makes throwing together quick and tasty meals a breeze. Adding herbs and spices to meals is a great way to add flavor and make healthy food taste great. Too often we fall back on just salt and pepper, missing out on all of the variety that citrus fruit juice, herbs, and spices can add to our meal times. Lastly, they look great in your fridge and will inspire you to make some fresh meal or snack!
Happy Food Prep Everyone!