Just about every dish tastes better with fresh herbs — and there’s no better way to get fresh herbs than to grow them yourself. One of the more flexible ways to grow herbs is in containers; get inspiration for growing yours in clever vessels (including a strawberry jar). Most herbs are naturals to start from seed. Once your herbs are established, they’ll need regular care, including dividing, pruning and harvesting.

Making the most of your herb garden:

Cut herbs regularly to encourage growth.

1. Throughout summer, snip plants often to encourage branching and new growth. Harvest successive cuttings whenever you need fresh herbs. Generally, cut no more than one-third of the stem’s length. Exceptions include chives and lavender. When they bloom, harvest the flowering stems at ground level. Use some of the herbs in cooking and use some of the herbs to make bouquets and teas or in a refreshing  herbal bath.

2. Gather herbs early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the sun bakes the plants’ essential oils. If you’re harvesting an herb’s leaves, cut the stems at their peak, when the flowers start to form. If you like, gather the blooms of herbs when they develop fully. If you’re after an herb’s seeds, wait until they mature and begin to turn brown before harvesting the seeds heads.

3. To prepare leafy stems for use in cooking, strip the leaves off the stems by sliding your thumb and forefinger from top to bottom. Snip off thicker leaves, such as those of parsley, bay, or rosemary, which don’t strip off readily. If you plan to remove the herbs before serving the food, skip stripping and use the whole stems. Tie them together for easier removal from whatever you are cooking.

Dry herbs to store leaves and seeds.

1. The traditional way to preserve herbs involves gathering small bunches of 10 to 15 stems and hanging them in a warm, airy place to dry. Wrap stems tightly with a rubber band or tie them with twine. Hang the bunches on a drying rack, on the rung of a hanger or from a nail.

2. Drying can take up to three weeks, depending on the plant and its moisture content. Strip crisp-dry leaves off stems before storing them. Dry seed heads by placing a paper bag over them and tying it shut around the stems. Place only one type of herb in each bag and label it.

3. The seeds will drop into the bag as they dry. Let seeds dry for several weeks before storing them according to the directions below.

Store herbs away from light and heat.

1. Proper storage. Store dried herbs in airtight glass or ceramic containers away from light and heat (never on or near the stove) to protect their flavor and fragrance. Keep the leaves whole until used (crushing leaves releases their flavor).

2. Use dried herbs within a year of harvesting.

Five Herb Pesto

This pesto would be great to serve as an appetizer on bruschetta.

Makes about 2/3 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • A handful of sliced almonds, toasted (cooled)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 50 medium basil leaves
  • a handful of arugula leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced chives
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Toast the coriander seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant and grind finely in a coffee grinder (kept for grinding spices). Pour into a food processor or blender and add the salt and garlic and process into a paste. Add the almonds and lemon zest and process. Start working the basil in, a few leaves at a time, then the arugula and the oregano. Blend until smooth. Stir the chives and cheese together with a fork and add to the processor. Pulse a few times. Gradually work in the olive oil by pouring in slowly from the top of the processor. Process. Taste  for salt and pepperand adjust to your liking.

Green Herb-Potato Soup

Dill’s fresh, mild flavors of licorice and parsley are a delicious accent for eggs, cheese, soup, vegetables and fish. Adding cauliflower to a potato soup not only reduces the calories, but adds flavor and nutrients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup each fresh finely chopped dill and parsley leaves (no stems)
  • 3 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan or similar-size soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cauliflower and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes, until the onion softens but does not begin to brown. Add 1 1/2 cups broth; adjust heat so the mixture simmers and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch into the remaining 2 1/2 cups broth and add to the soup pot. Bring back to a boil, and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender.

Whisk in the half-and-half and 1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes until smoothly and evenly incorporated. For a thicker soup, whisk in more potatoes as needed. Add herbs and add salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to the stove and heat, stirring until piping hot.

Serve garnished with chopped chives and sprigs of dill, if desired.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts of soup, 4 or 5 main dish servings.

Spinach and Orzo Salad

Bright, refreshing mint makes so many dishes come to life.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz baby spinach leaves
  • 1 lb cooked orzo
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz chopped feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Directions:

In a small pan, warm oil over medium-low heat. Sauté garlic until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer garlic and whatever oil remains in the pan to a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons juice, 2 teaspoons zest, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Add spinach and toss lightly. Add orzo, olives, cheese, onion and mint. Toss to combine and serve with Pita Bread.

Potato Salad with Olives & Garden Herbs

When you want to add the flavor of onion without it being overpowering, chives are very useful in cooking. 

This potato salad is best made several hours ahead so that the flavors have time to meld. Delicious served alongside grilled chicken.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped chives
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Directions:

Put the potatoes in a 6-quart Dutch oven or similar pot and cover with cold water by at least one inch. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons salt, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are just tender, 6 to 8 minutes from when the water comes to a boil (stir gently and don’t overcook, or the potatoes will fall apart).

Meanwhile, in a bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the vinegar and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment paper. While they’re still hot, drizzle them evenly with 3 tablespoons. of the dressing. Let cool completely

Transfer the cooled potatoes to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the olives, chives, parsley and mint. Pour about 1/2 cup of the remaining vinaigrette over the salad. With a large spoon or rubber spatula, gently toss. Take care to break as few of the potato slices as possible. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the flavors can blend.

Just before serving, season to taste again with salt and pepper and add more dressing if the salad seems dry—you may not need all of the dressing.

Make Ahead Tip

You can make this salad up to 12 hours ahead; just cover and refrigerate and return to room temperature before serving.

Risotto with Pesto and Shrimp

4 servings

Basil lends a sweet-spicy flavor with hints of clove and anise to Italian-style sauces, pesto and pasta. It’s tomatoes’ best partner,

Ingredients:

  • 1 packed cup basil leaves, and a few leaves for garnish
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 3/4 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a blender, combine basil, 1/3 cup oil, nuts and garlic; purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl; stir in cheese. Set aside pesto.

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups water and generous pinch salt to a boil. Add green beans; cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.Drain and set aside.

Using the same pan add the vegetable broth and bring just to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add rice; cook, stirring frequently, until rice is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth mixture, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until liquid is mostly evaporated.

Add 1/2 cup broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cupfuls, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is tender yet firm to the bite (you may have broth left over).

Remove risotto from heat. Stir in green beans, then cover saucepan and let risotto rest 
5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut shrimp crosswise into 1-inch pieces. 
In a medium nonstick skillet, heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; season with a pinch salt. Cook, turning pieces once, until opaque and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir pesto and shrimp pieces into risotto, Sprinkle with pepper and garnish with a few basil leaves.

Oregano Chicken and Vegetables

When you’re looking for an intense herb flavor, fresh oregano is a great choice to pair with meats, vegetables and pasta dishes.

Makes: 4 servings

ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 pounds meaty chicken pieces, skinned
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup pitted ripe olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano plus extra for garnish
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
  • 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium green sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium red sweet bell pepper, cut into strips

Directions:

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly coat a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil. Cook chicken over medium heat about 15 minutes or until light brown, turning once. Reduce heat.

Place the garlic, half of the lemon slices, half of the tomato, the olives, onion, parsley,and oregano over chicken pieces in skillet. Sprinkle with ground red pepper.

Add the wine and the 3/4 cup broth. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining tomato and the bell peppers. Cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes more or until sweet peppers are crisp-tender and chicken is tender and no longer pink.

Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a platter. If desired, garnish with remaining lemon slices and oregano.

Grilled Steak with Fresh Garden Herbs

 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup minced shallots (about 2)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 3/4 cup assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, mint, basil or whatever is growing in your garden)
  • 4 – 8-ounce rib-eye or skirt or NY strip steaks

Directions:

Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil, then herbs.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Sprinkle steaks generously with salt and pepper; brush lightly with olive oil. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare rib-eye  and NY strip or 3 minutes per side for medium-rare skirt steak. Transfer steaks to platter; let rest 5 minutes. Slice steak and spoon herb mixture over steaks and serve.

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