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Cooking with herbs

By Staff | Oct 5, 2017

BRESCHETTA SALSA was one of the menu items at the “Cooking With Herbs” class, held earlier at the hospital in Sibley. Attendees learned about various herbs, then used them for a hands-on lesson on creating different kinds of foods with them, such as salsa and pesto. The instructor said herbs and help reduce fat and salt from the diet.



SIBLEY – Reducing sugar, fat and salt by replacing those things with fresh herbs – and adding new flavor to food` – were the topics of discussion at a gathering at Osceola Community Hospital.

Renee Sweers, nutrition and wellness specialist from Iowa State University Extension in Woodbury County, taught the group of women how to identify and use herbs in their cooking, making a healthier lifestyle.

“If you can cut back on salt, fat and sugar, it makes quite a difference,” Sweers said, adding that 100 extra calories a day creates up to an extra 10 pounds per year.

MAKING PESTO WITH LEMON BASIL was the assignment for these two ladies. Renee Sweers (left) taught the class, and Rhonda Gebken of Little Rock worked with her to pull herbs apart to make the pesto.

She showed the group how to identify various types of herbs and talked about the more common perennial herbs, such as (some) rosemary, oregano, mint, tarragon, thyme and sage. She said basil is an annual herb, and that dill is a prolific re-seeder that can overtake a garden if not carefully managed, as is mint. She said dill is available on store shelves in a couple of forms – dill seed (the heads when the plant goes to seed) and dill weed, made from the fronds of the dill plant. She said cilantro is easy to grow from seed, and that mint, while it has many uses in cooking (such as placing some in fresh cut fruit salads), it can also be used for other things.

“If you have ants in your kitchen, just place some springs of mint around and they won’t come in,” she said. “Also, fresh perennial oregano in the garden attracts bees and butterflies.”

Sweers said factory-made seasonings can taste good, but those watching sodium need to be conscious about what is in them, because many times one of the first ingredients on the list is salt.

“The American diet is high in sodium, and not a lot of that sodium is coming from the salt shaker,” she said. “A lot is from processed foods and seasoning mixes.”

Sweers said parsley and basil offer antioxidant properties, which help reduce inflammation, and she said inflammation in the body contributes to cancer and heart disease.

She offered tips on how to identify various herbs as well as tips on how to grow them. She said herbs can grow inside the home during the winter in a pot if it is placed in a sunny spot. Perennial chives will come up in the garden very early, and will bloom and go to seed early in the spring by the time the garden is up.

She said the best time to harvest herbs is before the flower head develops, saying they have their best flavor then, and said seed production hastens toward the end of the season. Herbs should be picked out of the garden before the dew has dried but before it gets hot.

She said fresh garden herbs can easily be frozen and used later. She said green onions and chives can be used interchangeably, since they taste much the same.

Sweers also said fresh herbs should be used differently than purchased herbs.

“You should use three times as much fresh herbs as compared to the dry ones you buy in the store,” she said. “I usually double the amount a recipe calls for, then go by taste after that.”

She also said some herbs should go on food just before serving so as not to diminish the flavor by cooking. She said basil and cilantro lose their initial taste after drying.

She said purchased herbs should be discarded after one year if they are not consumed.

Sweers offered some herb and food combinations:

  • Rosemary goes well with chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews and tomatoes; she said rosemary and thyme are delicious when placed underneath chicken skin and baked;
  • Basil complements tomato and pasta dishes most commonly;
  • Dill goes well with carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, tomatoes and potatoes;
  • Parsley makes a good garnish for potato salad;
  • Cilantro is commonly found in Mexican food, including salsas and tomato-based dishes;
  • Oregano is used commonly in Italian foods such as spaghetti and pizza;
  • Mint freshens up the taste of carrots for a salad, and goes well with peas and teas;
  • Tarragon complements eggs (including deviled eggs), chicken, fish and vegetables;
  • Thyme can spark up the flavors of eggs, lima beans, potatoes and poultry;
  • Sage works well with beef, potatoes, pork, carrots and summer squash, among others.

“Many cookbooks have charts showing what herbs go with what foods,” said Sweers.

She added that more recipes using herbs-and other low-fat recipes can be found by going to spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu and by viewing their blog, and by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. “Spend Smart Eat Smart” is also an app that can be purchased and be used while shopping at the grocery store.

Cherry stuffed grilled chicken

1 1/2 cups pitted, coarsely-chipped fresh sweet cherries

(If fresh cherries are not available, use frozen cherries – thaw the day before and drain excess liquid)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (4-6 oz. each)

3 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Combine cherries, onion, sage, salt and thyme; mix well. Cut pocket on thicker side of each chicken breast; sprinkle lightly with salt if desired. Stuff a quarter of cherry mixture into each pocket. Close opening with metal skewers or wooden picks. Combine oil, vinegar, garlic salt and pepper; mix well. Marinate stuffed chicken breasts half hour in refrigerator. Broil or grill chicken breasts, brushing with marinade until fully cooked and juices run clear when tested.

Oven method: Brown stuffed chicken on both sides in oven-safe skillet. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until juices run clear.

Green beans and


1 pound red potatoes

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 pound green beans, trimmed and blanched

2 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt to taste

Simmer potatoes until tender; drain and cool. Quarter potatoes lengthwise and set aside. In large pan heat oil; add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add rosemary, lemon zest and chili flakes; saute until fragrant. Add potatoes and beans; saute until vegetables are hot and coated with seasonings. Sprinkle with lemon juice and season lightly with salt. Serve warm.

Creamy blueberry shake

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

2 small ripe bananas

1/3 cup honey

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 1/2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt

1 cup low-fat vanilla ice cream

4 springs mint

Combine berries, bananas, honey and lemon juice in blender; puree on high speed. Add yogurt and ice cream and blend until thick and smooth. Place immediately into cold glasses and decorate with a sprig of mint.

Mango salsa

1 mango (peeled, pitted and diced)

1/2 small red onion, diced

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt

Juice from 1 lime

Combine ingredients and stir to mix. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate to let flavors blend. Serve with baked tortilla chips or cinnamon chips. Can be served as an appetizer or snack.

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