Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: These herbs want to get fresh with you -- let them.
This herb can elevate even the simplest summer dish; just remember to keep it out of the refrigerator, or else it’ll turn brown before you know it. Your best bet is to store basil in a glass of water on a sunny spot of your counter: Cut the stems right before you put them in the water, and make sure to keep the leaves dry.
This lacy-leafed herb is hard to find, but worth seeking out for its subtle anise flavor and its fresh grassiness (in the best possible way).
Cilantro is one polarizing herb, but even if you think you're not a fan, there might be hope for you yet. Only a small percentage of cilantro aversion can be blamed on genetics, so if you’re willing to give cilantro another shot, Harold McGee suggests starting with pesto, because crushing the leaves can help reduce the offending odors.
The smallest of the edible alliums, chives are almost always added to a dish at the end of cooking in order to preserve their mild onion flavor. Chive blossoms are edible too, and carry that same delicate taste -- but of course if you don’t want to eat them, the lavender orbs are just as enjoyable bobbing in a vase.
To head off any confusion: Curry leaves are not related to curry powder, and are not, in any way, a substitute. Curry leaves are a part of the same family as citrus fruits. Their glossy green leaves are very aromatic, with a citrusy element, but they have a unique flavor all their own.
It's a happy, bright-tasting herb that pairs well with almost everything, and you can use the entire plant, from stem to seed.
They look similar to common chives, but garlic chives have wider, flatter leaves that hold up better to cooking than regular chives. It's not just the leaves you can eat, though -- the flower, stems, buds, and pretty white blossoms are all edible, too.
Lemon balm has been used medicinally for its calming effect (as well as to treat a host of different ailments), but this pleasant lemon-scented herb will be just as beneficial in your kitchen, too.
This unassuming stalk might not have the same visual appeal as a giant bunch of cilantro or a stack of shiso leaves, but don’t be fooled by appearances. Lemongrass can add a refreshing lemony taste to your dishes, lending a depth of flavor that can’t be replicated with a simple squeeze of lemon juice.
At the grocery store, the mint you’re most likely to find is spearmint; head to a farmers market and you'll see the familiar peppermint, along with pineapple mint, grapefruit mint, chocolate mint, and many others (mint interbreeds so easily that the possible varieties are seemingly endless).
This herb sports fancy ruffled edges and has a pleasantly assertive bite. Its flavor is minty with a gingery edge, though some describe it as herbal or citrusy, as well.
One taste of this herb and you'll be hooked on its refreshing sour tang. It's no surprise that sorrel is often referred to as "lemonade in a leaf."
Often used in bouquet garni, as well as in spice and herb blends like za'atar and Herbs de Provence, thyme works well with a wide variety of foods. Plus, running your fingers down the length of a sprig and watching the tiny leaves fall off is one of the more satisfying kitchen tasks.
Photos of chives, garlic chives, and lemon balm by Mark Weinberg, all others by James Ransom