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Lyn Nichols column: Fresh or dry, herbs boost flavors

Readers have asked if there is a difference between spices and herbs since both are used to enhance the flavors of foods. The generally accepted definition of an herb is that it consists of the fragrant leaves or stems of plants that grow in temp...

Readers have asked if there is a difference between spices and herbs since both are used to enhance the flavors of foods.

The generally accepted definition of an herb is that it consists of the fragrant leaves or stems of plants that grow in temperate zones.

A spice is derived from aromatic parts of a plant such as the buds, fruits, seeds, roots or bark. Spices are usually obtained from plants thriving in tropical regions.

There is some overlap in these definitions; for example, coriander. The seeds and dried ground forms of the plant are called coriander, but the fresh leaves are called cilantro.

Because herbs grow well in temperate regions many cooks enjoy cultivating them in home gardens, patio tubs, window boxes or in pots kept on window sills.


By "growing their own," absolute freshness of the herbs is assured and they are immediately available for seasoning.

Most herbs are not particularly difficult to grow and don't require special soil or conditions, but some, like rosemary, thyme and sage, do best in a sunny spot whereas chives do better in more filtered sunlight and a moist atmosphere. It is a good idea to consult specialist nurseries or garden centers for advice on how best to grow particular herbs.

One person I know grows fresh herbs in a clay pot that is 4 inches deep and 14 inches in diameter. She calls it her winter garden and she has fresh thyme, chives, oregano and parsley through the winter months.

For the cooks who prefer not to attempt an "herb garden," herbs are available in the supermarkets, either fresh or dried.

Commonly available fresh herbs are basil, bay leaf, cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.

When purchasing fresh herbs, be sure to choose those with a bright color and no signs of withering or browning. They can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight plastic bag for up to five days.

Dried herbs have a stronger, more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, but they lose their flavor quickly if the containers are airtight. Dried herbs purchased at the market are often packaged in cardboard boxes or in cellophane. To prolong the dried herb flavor and potency, transfer herbs to a bottle with a screw-top lid and store in a cool, dark place. By doing this, dried herbs will remain useful for three to six months.

I will address the drying and preserving of herbs in my next column, but for now I will share some of my favorite recipes requiring herbs for their unique flavor -- cream of tomato dill soup, herb roasted chicken, Fines Herbs blend and herb butter.


This is a traditional French blend of fresh herbs that creates a subtle aromatic flavor to simple salads, soups, egg dishes and fish. It is best to use this delicate blend of Fines Herbs at the end of the cooking time or sprinkle on for a delightful garnish.

Combining equal parts of the dried herbs easily makes a dry version of a Fines Herbs blend.

Fines Herbs

¼ cup finely minced parsley

¼ cup finely minced chives

¼ cup finely minced tarragon

¼ cup finely minced chervil

Combine herbs in a small bowl and dry whisk.


Herb Butter

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and beat until thoroughly blended. Cover and set in a cool place for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend. Refrigerate.

Note: For cream cheese with herbs, substitute the butter with cream cheese and add Z, teaspoon garlic powder to the mixture.


Herb Roast Chicken

3½ to 4 pound roasting chicken (chicken breasts may be used instead of whole chicken)

Zest from 1 small orange

½ cup herb butter or cream cheese with herbs

½ yellow bell pepper or Anaheim, seeded and minced

1 small orange, quartered

4 to 6 whole garlic cloves

¼ small sweet onion


1. Using your fingers, separate the skin from the meat across the chicken breast and over the tops of the legs.

2. Combine the orange zest and herb butter in a small bowl and beat until blended. Stir in the minced pepper.

3. Using a spoon or spatula, pack the herb butter under the separated skin of the chicken until evenly distributed. Push the skin back into place, then gently pressing your hands over the chicken to spread the mixture in an even layer. Stuff orange, garlic and onion into the chicken cavity.

4. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and squeeze the juice from the orange over the top.

5. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 1½ hours or until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a skewer or thin knife.

Tip: To avoid overly browning chicken, you may cover the chicken with foil toward the end of the cooking process.

Cream of Tomato Dill Soup

2 ribs celery, finely chopped


1 small onion, finely chopped

3 pounds large plump tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

½ ounce fresh basil, finely chopped

1 ounce fresh dill, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 quarts chicken stock

10 ounces V-8 juice

1 ounce Worcestershire

2 pints heavy cream

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

Salt and pepper if desired

1. Sauté the celery and onion in a small amount of butter or olive oil.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, reduce heat and add the fresh herbs and garlic.

3. Add the chicken stock, V-8 juice and Worcestershire, stirring to mix. Bring soup back to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add cream.

4. Melt butter, add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to smell like nuts or a pie crust. At this point remove the roux from the heat, and slowly add the roux to the soup, stirring constantly, until soup thickens slightly.

5. Remove soup from heat, ladle into individual bowl and garnish with fresh dill sprigs, a few croutons and a drizzle of cream. Serve with toast points.

Lyn Nichols hosts "What's Cookin'?" weekdays on WDAY-TV. Her column appears Sundays and alternate Wednesdays in The Forum. She can be reached at PO Box 2466, Fargo, ND 58108, or e-mail, lyn@i29.net

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