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lucy waverman

Basil and other broad-leafed herbs are better frozen than dried.Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Every summer, my garden is overgrown with herbs. Over the years, I’ve tried to bring herbs indoors in pots and grow them in a sunny window. Within three weeks, they are brown and droopy. Instead, I prefer to preserve them. There is nothing more delightful than using your own flavourful herbs in the depths of winter – they smell better, taste better and are much less expensive than the store-bought kind.

Preserving in oil

Flavoured oils are excellent for sautéing, salad making, sprinkling on pizza and finishing a dish with an extra spark. The more herbs you add, the more strongly flavoured the oil will be. Use whole stalks for the best results. Cover with either a good vegetable oil or olive oil, refrigerate, strain herbs out after a few days. Use within four days.

Preserving in vinegar

Flavouring vinegar is another method of preserving herbs. Use single herbs on their stalks, such as tarragon, or different combinations such as basil, chives and oregano. Start with either a white wine vinegar or a rice vinegar because their mild flavour will give you a less acidic, more mellow finished product. Leave the vinegar in the sunlight for two weeks to draw out the flavour from the herbs. Remove most of the herbs, leaving a few for attractiveness. Store in a cupboard.

Drying

Drying herbs is a practical method of preserving. Pick just before they start to flower. Do not wash before drying unless they are very dusty. If you must wash them, dry them well with a paper towel. The easiest method for drying is to tie a bunch loosely with a string and hang, upside down, in an airy place for four to five days, or until the herbs are completely dry. Then shake the herbs into a paper bag and discard the stems. Store in jars in a dark, cool place and use as needed. All herbs can be dried, although some, such as basil and tarragon, are better frozen.

If you are growing spices that form into seeds such as coriander, caraway, fennel and cumin, they must be harvested as soon as the seed heads droop. Cut away the seeds, discarding any stalk and place on a cookie sheet. Dry naturally in the air for two days. If the sun is out, it will dry them in a couple of hours. Place in jars and store in a dark place. If you see any signs of moisture in the jars, pop the spices in a 150 F oven for an hour to make sure they are completely dry. Dried herbs are at their best for about six months, then they lose their intensity.

Freezing herbs

Place herbs with their stalks on a baking sheet and freeze uncovered for about eight hours. Bag in freezer bags with the stalk if possible. Basil and other broad-leafed herbs are better frozen than dried. Tarragon, as well, loses its flavour quickly when dried. Alternatively, chop the herbs and freeze in ice cube trays with a little water. Toss the whole cube into whatever you are cooking. You can also freeze pesto made with any herb. Omit the cheese and add it later.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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