I will always choose fresh herbs when available, but come fall and winter soup season, it’s nice to have a supply of your own dried herbs in the pantry. I’m pretty much a spur-of-the-moment cook, surveying the pantry & freezer to see what I can pull together for a tasty meal. Dashing outside to clip the necessary fresh herbs in my summer herb garden is delightful. Driving to & from the grocery in winter to get a small high-priced fresh herb packet, not so much.
My granddaughter visited last week, and since she loves “cookin’ with Mama”, we did some herb harvesting and drying in the microwave. If a 10-year-old can successfully do this, rest assured, so can you! We cut herbs in the morning when the aromatic oils are the strongest – after the dew had dried and before the heat of the day. Plants weren’t dusty since we’d had several days of rain, so we could skip rinsing and air-drying before beginning the actual drying process. And the process couldn’t be simpler: separate the leaves from the stems, microwave the leaves, bag the dried leaves. Voila!
Here’s the step-by-step:
Put a sheet of paper towel on a paper plate. (We trimmed the sheet into a circle since the sides of the microwave sometimes keep a square sheet from fully rotating.) Sprinkle a handful of herb leaves in a single layer over the plate, making sure you don’t have any dense areas that will inhibit thorough drying. Top with another sheet of paper towel and put the plate in the microwave. We did 75 seconds for the tarragon, checking dryness as we went ( 30-30-15).
We repeated this process several times until we had processed all of our harvested tarragon. Then we filled a labeled storage bag with the dried leaves and tucked it away in the dark pantry. Once all the herb varieties you plan to dry are completed, you can crumble them or leave them whole and pack into smaller jars for gifting, if desired.
Some herbs, like parsley, are mostly water, and will dry quicker than those that contain more essential oils, like sage and oregano. Here’s a list of approximate drying times for several herbs, but always check during the process to avoid overheating and possibly burning.
Since dried herbs lose their potency after about 6 months, it makes sense to dry your own in late summer. Just think how long the herbs at the grocery have been sitting in those little jars from factory to shelf… Dried herbs are usually 3 to 4 times stronger than the fresh herbs. To substitue dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, use 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount listed in the recipe. A simple Italian Seasoning Blend can be made with 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 2 tablespoons dried basil, 2 tablespoons dried thyme (not ground), 1 tablespoon crushed dried sage, and 1 teaspoon dried rosemary.
I have a favorite recipe for Oven Ratatouille that I make with either fresh or dried herbs, and it’s great either way. The recipe comes from The Big Book of Casseroles by Maryana Vollstedt. It of course calls for eggplant, but since Ken is NOT a fan, I substitute with summer squash. As I’m sure you’ve also experienced, zucchini and summer squash – as well as tomatoes – are in no short supply this time of year, so it’s a perfect dish! I always have plenty from my weekly Madison Area Growers CSA bag!
There are so many ways to use fresh and dried herbs from your garden, I hope you’ll give microwave drying a try. Bon Apetite!