What Are the Best Ways to Use Dried Herbs? 3 Tips from Heidi Swanson

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I received some beautiful packets of dried herbs in the mail last week: fragrant whole buds of thyme and oregano from Greece. I sniffed, I admired. And then I put them in the pantry, because I have no idea what to do with dried herbs. I was genuinely thrown off dried herbs after too much musty dried oregano on homemade pizzas in childhood, and a run-in later with some dried thyme that, for me, ruined a dish. Call me scared, but I just can't wrap my head around dried herbs.

Can you convince me that dried herbs should have a place in my kitchen? I asked a few other people, too, and here's what they said.

I am such a lover of fresh herbs; along with lemons and eggs, fresh herbs are one of the most constant companions in my kitchen. They bring flavor without fat, salt, or sugar, livening up otherwise very simple dishes. I also feel like fresh herbs tend to be a better value; I buy big bunches of parsley or cilantro for less than a dollar and use them all week long. A little packet of fresh rosemary can go a long way, too. But dried herbs seem something totally different to me, lacking the fresh vibrance, and since you often use more of a bottle of dried herbs in a recipe, not as good a value.

So I posted my perplexity on Twitter: "Do you use dried herbs in cooking? Hard for me; fusty, musty old bottles turned me off."

I got several responses, including one from my friend Amy at Family Feedbag, who said: "Some I prefer fresh, others (ie. oregano) I prefer dried for their intensity. Drying them myself solves the musty/dusty issue."

OK, intensity — I can get behind that idea!

Hannah Kaminsky reiterated the idea of freshness: "Depends on the source & also the herb. Basil will never taste fresh, but parsley and dill are great. Just use more."

Then I went straight to the source, Heidi Swanson, who sells these Daphnis & Chloe dried herbs in her shop, Quitokeeto. What do you use dried herbs for, I asked her. I'm so used to tossing fresh herbs into salads and on top of finished dishes; I just don't feel like dried herbs would translate the same. Here's what she said:

I think it's sometimes hard to get your head around how and why to use dried — but I think it's analogous to chile peppers. There are times I use fresh — which brings a bright and fresh bolt of flavor. And then there are the times you use dried chiles — which brings flavor with more depth, scent, and a bass note of chile slower to come forward. There's a similar thing going on with herbs.

I love the analogy to dried peppers; that helped me see dried herbs in a new light, and not just as the weaker cousins of the real thing. Here are three ways Heidi suggests using dried herbs:

  1. Use your hands to crumble them over hot stews, or beans, or casseroles as they come out of the oven (and just before serving). That with a drizzle of olive oil is a nice, incredibly fragrant finishing touch.
  2. I like to make custom blends with dried herbs. I sprinkle that on salads, eggs, vinaigrettes, yogurt, ricotta. You can bake them into breads and cakes, savory pies.
  3. Layer: I sometimes roast things like squash or potatoes sprinkled with dried oregano, sage, thyme, and then finish with more (or with fresh herbs).

All so delicious. Maybe I don't need as much convincing as I thought I did, but I'm still curious for your thoughts: how do you use dried herbs in your cooking?

Find Daphnis & Chloe dried herbs: Daphnis & Chloe Greek Herb Collection at Quitokeeto

(Image credits: Faith Durand)

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