Using fresh, bright, graceful herbs is one of the top ways to set dishes apart during the holidays. They go way beyond simply garnishing to bring deep flavor, great aroma and instant polish to your dishes. And since many traditional holiday dishes are pretty brown, they’re a welcome way to bring color and freshness to the table. Keep several types on hand and you’ll find it easy to elevate your dishes to celebratory status.
Here are some of my favorite tips to using herbs throughout your holiday meal, plus a parcel of terrific recipes you can turn to for making the most of five holiday favorites.
Give holiday cocktails a festive touch with a sprig of thyme, rosemary or mint.
Sprinkle some finely chopped herbs over dips or spreads (even store-bought ones!) to give them eye-appeal and fresh flavor.
Stuff herb sprigs into the cavity of your turkey for fantastic aroma as it roasts.
Use whole sprigs to garnish the platter of your turkey or roast.
Choose tall pieces of rosemary or sage to use as table bouquets — you can use them alone or mix them with flowers.
Tuck a branch of a woody herb like thyme or rosemary into your guests’ napkin rings.
Add the leaves of soft herbs like parsley, chives and dill to green salads.
If you use just the leaves, save thyme, parsley and dill stems for making stock or broth.
There’s no herb I associate with the deep, comforting flavors of winter more than sage. Its silvery greenish-blue hue alone is irresistible, and its heady scent is terrific in long-cooking foods like roasts and stews. And like other strongly flavored herbs, it has the enviable ability to lighten the taste of rich meats and dairy. A little goes a long way as a raw garnish for soups or casseroles, although you’ll want to use quite large quantities for cooked dishes. It’s the star of the these holiday classics:
Heady, fresh, lightly floral thyme is one of the workhorses of autumn cooking. It blends almost seamlessly with the foods and other herbs around it, deepening aromas and flavors without overwhelming them. Thyme is also one of the best herbs to pair with autumn fruits like apples, pears and citrus. Try it in these wonderfully savory recipes:
Rosemary’s pinelike flavor and feathery, branchy look make it a natural choice for holiday cooking. It’s also one of the most aromatic herbs, gracing the air and even your skin with an intoxicating blend of sharp, sweet and minty scents that are a hallmark of autumn’s best dishes. It’s at its best played against very rich flavors or as a foil for mild foods. But remember that rosemary is one of the most powerful herbs out there, packed with essential oils, so use it sparingly or it may eclipse the ingredients around it. These wonderful holiday recipes showcase rosemary at its best:
The clean, mildly anise flavor of this herb makes it one of the most versatile on the holiday table, and since it rarely overwhelms the ingredients around it you can turn to it anytime you think a dish could use a boost. I love whole parsley leaves added to green salads, stems packed into the cavity of a turkey for aroma and a dust of chopped leaves over just about anything that needs freshness and color. Although it’s often a bit player in holiday dishes, it comes into its own in these classics:
Cooling, palate-cleansing mint is both a beautiful garnish and an inspirational flavor to add to both sweet and savory dishes. I love it as the slightly unexpected ingredient in roasts and other deeply flavored dishes and as the light foil to the sweetness of desserts and fruit. It’s also a superb herb to add to beverages and cocktails, where its mild tingle is a welcome prelude to a feast. These recipes use mint to great advantage:
What herbs shine on your holiday table?