Vegan Chef Ricki Heller: 3 Reasons to Use Fresh Herbs

Every year when May rolls around, I start to think about growing my garden. Although I’ve got a pretty black thumb when it comes to gardening, I still love fresh produce—especially fresh herbs. Over the years I’ve attempted basil, cilantro, parsley, dill and mint; and most years, I ended up with a few scraggy stalks of everything else, plus a mountain of mint. (Try it yourself—mint can seemingly survive anything!)

Still, that doesn’t stop me from using fresh herbs all year long. In summer, I buy from the farmer’s market and in winter, from the supermarket. And while the quality isn’t quite as good between November and May, it’s still better than having no herbs at all!

photo by Ricki Heller

Here are some reasons why you might like to add fresh herbs to your next salad—and some great pairings to try:

1)      Herbs Add Flavor. 

More than any other reason, you’ll love the way herbs taste in your salads.  Basil, with its slightly peppery undertones and subtle sweetness, is a perfect accompaniment to juicy tomatoes or soft, creamy “cheeses”; it’s also heavenly when paired with fruit-based salads, like nectarine or watermelon. Or, try topping your salad with some basil pesto-coated beans for a protein boost that also tastes amazing!

I find that dill’s distinctive punch works beautifully with any crisp, juicy vegetables like cabbages, fresh beans, or zucchini, making it a perfect addition to slaws of all kinds. Fresh sage is an ideal addition to warm salads or those based on root vegetables, such as winter squashes or sweet potatoes.

And lately I’ve been experimenting with mint, since I’ve got an overabundance of this hardy herb in my garden this year. Mint is great chopped and sprinkled over almost any kind of leafy green salad, but it’s also lovely with apples (try a mint-enhanced Waldorf next time), or other juicy stone fruits like nectarines or peaches.  Mint is also a perfect complement in berry-based salads or fruit salads in general. And, of course, mint is key in tabouleh or couscous.

2)      Herbs Add Color and Texture.  

It’s said that we eat first with our eyes, and herbs provide a naturally appealing visual counterpart to the other ingredients in salads. You’ve got crisp, leafy greens complemented by the green, leafy herbs like basil, parsley or cilantro. One of my favorite salads that provides a perfect base for chopped assorted herbs is a Kale Salad, Fully Loaded. In this mega nutritious bowl, I chop up and add whatever herbs I have on hand, as long as they’re fresh and green. And so far, everything has worked! Herbs also pop visually when added to non-green salads, such as tomato or fruit-based ones.

Kale Salad Bowl - photo by Ricki Heller

Kale Salad Bowl – photo by Ricki Heller

3)      Herbs Provide Essential Nutrients and Health Benefits. 

Health benefits may not be the first thing that comes to mind in relation to herbs, but in fact, these plants are nutritional powerhouses with incredible health benefits! Most of us know that peppermint is commonly used to help calm an upset tummy and improve digestion, but it’s also been shown to halt the growth of cancer cells, and the natural oils are great anti-microbials, acting against many kinds of bacteria and fungi. Cilantro is known as a potent detoxifying herb, helping to rid the body of toxins; it also has been shown to help control blood sugar levels. Simple parsley is rich in chlorophyll, a detoxifier, and contains a host of antioxidants (known to fight free radical damage in the body) and more Vitamin C than oranges! Basil is full of anti-bacterial flavonoids as well as anti-inflammatory properties; the list goes on.

No matter which fresh herbs you toss into your salads, you’ll be adding variety and great taste at the same time, while also promoting good health. Really, what’s not to love?

Using only whole foods ingredients, a generous pinch of humor and input from her two chatty canines, Ricki Heller shares gluten-free, allergy-friendly and sugar-free recipes on her blog, Diet, Dessert and Dogs
She is also the author of the bestselling cookbook, Sweet Freedom, one of only three cookbooks recommended by Ellen DeGeneres on her website. Her second cookbook, Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free, will be published in September, 2013. 

Cover Image_NSGF (2)Ricki is an Associate Editor for Simply Gluten-Free Magazine and has written for Clean Eating magazine, Allergic Living, Living Without, VegNews, Allergic Living and many other publications. She lives near Toronto, Canada with her husband and two dogs.

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