New This Month

The Smart Cook's Guide to Fresh Herbs

  • Photos by Christopher Testani
  • Recipes by Greg Lofts

Learn how to turn up the flavor—sprig by sprig—on summer dishes and drinks. Chop, muddle, and toss the season’s best into our recipes for bold, aromatic flavor.

Singular Cilantro

What do you get when you blister tomatillos, onion, and jalapeños in a cast-iron skillet, then blitz them in a blender with cilantro and a squeeze of lime? An addictive salsa that lends heat and spice to more than chips. Here, part of the batch flavors a pan of shredded chicken, and the rest is spooned onto crispy tostadas heaped with the meat and cinnamon-scented mashed beans.

Beautiful Basil

Shrimp, snap peas, and shiitake mushrooms get a quick sauté before they’re tossed into glass noodles, which are ready after a 10-minute soak in boiling-hot water. (Ah, the joy of fast cooking in summer.) The crowning touch: big handfuls of leafy basil, which are stirred in at the end for bright flavor, their raw edges softened slightly by the heat.

Marvelous Mint

If you associate this tingly tender herb with mojitos and iced tea, consider a savory twist. Throw a half-cup of packed leaves in the food processor with pistachios, pecorino, and lemon zest, and it mellows into an umami-rich sauce to fold into pasta. Let the noodles cool a bit before stirring it in, or the herb will cook and lose what’s left of its kick.

Tasty Tarragon and Thyme

Just as a wedge of citrus makes a cocktail sing, herbs spruce up any libation. Steep sprigs in syrup, as we did for the gin-and-tarragon slushie here, or muddle them with other ingredients: The thyme in this Caribbean-inflected refresher combines lime and ginger with rooibos tea for a tropical riff on an old country-club favorite.

Outstanding Oregano

Instead of marinating halibut before cooking, flip the order and bathe it in flavor after it’s grilled. The advantage: No waste. Since it hasn’t touched raw fish, you can use the rest as a vinaigrette for a bed of potatoes, cipollini onions, and arugula. Chopped oregano perfumes the dressing, and whole sprigs char with the fish, turning earthy and sweet in the process.

Powerful Parsley

This herb is like the quiet kid in high school who dazzles at the reunion. Once sidelined as a garnish, it stars in this Greek-inspired lamb burger, punctuating the juicy patty, yogurt-feta sauce, and chopped tomato salad with fresh, peppery flavor. Serve it with rosemary shoestring potatoes—both ingredients get super-crispy when flash-fried briefly.

Herb by Herb

If a pinch of fresh mint or basil makes any dish more fragrant, imagine what a whole bunch can do. Here, our tried-and-true techniques for enjoying every last sprig.

  • 1
    Store Herbs Properly

    To keep all kinds except basil fresh longer, loosely wrap them in a paper towel, then put them in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge. Store basil as you found it in the market—either at room temperature, or refrigerated upright in half an inch of water in a glass, covered with a plastic bag.

  • 2
    Whip Into Compound Butter

    Place a pat on a steak for extra sizzle before serving, or spread it onto a ham-and-Brie or avocado-and-tomato sandwich. In a food processor, finely chop 1/3 cup fresh tender herbs (or 1 to 2 tablespoons leaves from hardy herbs). Add 1 stick room-temperature unsalted butter and 1 teaspoon kosher salt; pulse to combine. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment and fold it in half toward you, then roll back and forth to form a log. Twist ends to seal; refrigerate up to 1 month, or freeze up to 3 months.

  • 3
    Use in Seasonings

    Blend extra sprigs with salt to enliven meat, fish, or vegetables; or into sugar to rim a cocktail glass. In a food processor, combine 3/4 cup either kosher salt or sugar and 1/2 cup fresh tender herbs, such as basil, mint, or cilantro. Pulse until herbs are finely ground and mixture is well combined. Both will keep in an airtight container up to 6 months.

  • 4
    Freeze Herbs

    Chop leaves off any herb and fill an ice-cube tray three-quarters full with them, pressing down to compress. Pour in boiling water to cover. Freeze, pop out cubes, and store in a resealable plastic bag up to 6 months.

  • 5
    Dry Whole Sprigs

    Lay sprigs on a cooling rack over a tray (so air can circulate) for 2 to 3 days, turning a few times. They’re done when they crumble if crushed between your fingers, and will last up to 1 year in a sealed container.

  • 6
    Make an Infused Oil

    This fragrant elixir can stand in for olive oil in any dressing or marinade. In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil with a handful of any fresh herb. Cook over medium heat until hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Let cool, then store in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot up to 3 months.