Summer is here, which means the gardens are coming to life…and it’s time to start harvesting and preserving produce!
Yes, I know it seems early, but on our farm some of the herbs are ready to be collected, mostly because of my “lazy gardening” method that I explain more fully in my post about “Back to Eden Gardening”.
Every year, I let my cilantro plants go to seed in the garden, because as a good Kitchen Steward:
1. I’m much too lazy to pull them up, and
2. The bees love the cilantro flowers! It’s a great way to attract beneficial insects to your garden.
The following spring, my laziness is rewarded with a huge crop of cilantro that I didn’t have to plant. I can then transplant them where I want them, but usually I just let it grow and harvest as much as possible.
Cilantro can be a “feast or famine” crop – seems like I either have way too much or none at all. Cilantro “bolts” or goes to seed very quickly in hot weather, so in order to have a regular supply, it’s important to plant seeds nearly every week during the growing season.
Ummm, yeah… I can never remember to do that!
This spring, I had SO MUCH cilantro, I decided there must be a way to preserve it for fresh use, so I could always have some on hand during the summer. Many herbs freeze well, but cilantro is not one of them. It gets mushy and watery. Dehydrating is an option, but it’s just not the same as fresh.
I thought back to a book I read years ago that discussed tradition food preservation methods. Salt is one of the most widely used preservation methods around the world, especially in places that lack refrigeration. The book even mentioned it could be used for fresh herbs.
A little searching around on the web revealed that YES, you can preserve fresh herbs in salt. Ah ha!
Some of the salt preserving methods involve filling a jar with alternating layers of salt and whole (un-chopped) herbs. This seemed like it could come in handy, but I’m always looking for ways to create my own “convenience foods”, foods where I’ve done the prep work ahead of time so I can get dinner on the table quickly on those busy nights.
This method (I suppose you could call it a recipe) is incredibly simple, easy to use and can be used for pretty much any leafy herb, such as:
- or a combination of herbs
All you need to remember is 4 to 1 ratio:
4 parts chopped herbs to 1 part sea salt or Kosher salt (not iodized salt).
You want to use the freshest herbs possible. Homegrown is best, of course! Otherwise, check at a farmers market or store.
- Wash and dry the herbs well. A salad spinner works well, along with a kitchen towel to dab off the water.
- Roughly chop the herbs with a sharp knife. If you are doing large amounts, a food processor might work better, but take care to not over-process the herbs into mush.
- Scoop the chopped herbs into a measuring cup.
- Remember the 4 to 1 ratio: 4 parts chopped herbs to 1 part sea salt or Kosher salt (not iodized salt). For example, if you have 4 tbsp of chopped cilantro, then you would add 1 tbsp of salt.
- Carefully combine the herbs and salt in a clean container. Stir gently.
- Store in the fridge. The herbs should last for weeks, if not a few months.
Using Your Salt Preserved Herbs
We mainly use cilantro for guacamole and pico de gallo (or fresh salsa) at our house. The salt preserved cilantro works beautifully for these!
Now when I pull out a jar of my frozen guacamole to thaw for dinner (yes, you can freeze guacamole!), I can quickly stir in a small spoonful of salt preserved cilantro before serving.
* Note: if you plan on freezing guac and adding salt preserved cilantro, cut back on the salt when making the guac.
Be sure to always use a clean spoon or fork to scoop the herbs out of the jar, as you don’t want to introduce any bad bacteria to the mixture.
Also, since the salt preserved herbs are so salty, be sure to hold off adding additional salt until you have added the salted herbs and taste tested your dish.
The options for using salt preserved herbs are endless! Here are a few suggestions:
- Cilantro for salsa, guacamole, curry, Asian dishes
- Basil for pasta, tomato soup, tomato sauces, bruschetta
- Parsley for tabbouleh, pasta, roasted chicken or fish, potato salad
- Oregano for pizza sauce, seasoning taco meat
- Sage for roasted meats, making bone broth
- Chives for potato salad, egg salad, soup
Don’t Let Those Herbs Go to Waste!
Next time you are overrun with herbs and don’t know what to do with them, remember this salt preserving method. It’s fast, it’s easy and you’ll love the convenience of having fresh chopped herbs waiting for you in your fridge. Have fun!