Maybe this is only a problem for those of us who rarely cook for more than two people at a time. But when I’m buying fresh basil, or cilantro, or parsley, I really (really) don’t need three quarters of a pound of cilantro. After you’ve put that quarter cup of chopped herbage into your recipe, what do you do with the rest of the bunch before it is fit only for the compost?
Mint is easy. You put it in the food processor with sugar and just enough water and you then have a great simple syrup for your spirituous libations.
Rose mary, sage, and other heartier greens should be wrapped in towels and dried. This way they keep a long time, and work more or less just as well — sometimes better.
But the delicate greens like basil, parsley and cilantro? What do you do?
Step one is to find an art supply or restaurant supply shop (do not go to a dedicated cooking store as these are almost always very over priced, especially that one you find in upscale malls that seems to be named after a California grape growing region) and to purchase a few squeeze bottles of a reasonable size. You know, the kind that look like they should have ketchup or mustard in them. But get clear ones if you can, not the red and yellow ones, to avoid confusion.
Next, put your herbs, one at a time please, into your blender or food processor with high quality olive oil. High quality, but not the super ultra premium stuff.
As a bit of a tangent, let’s talk about olive oil. Everyone loves to talk about fancy extra virgin olive oils. Everyone loves to find those free samples in the grocery store with bits of bread to taste oils that come in tall, skinny, dark green glass bottles which are the equivalent of a single barrel scotch or a regional wine. This stuff is not for cooking. This stuff is for eating. Yes, by itself, with bread. These high end oils have unique, strong flavors that don’t belong in food, but do belong in your belly. Heck, when the Orthodox fasting rule excludes oil, what it means is this kind of oil, the stuff you’d break out for a feast of some kind, not eat everyday. Why not everyday? Because that skinny glass bottle costs $20 or more, that’s why not. But our culture has even gotten a bit weird about cooking olive oil, as well. TV chefs of the variety that make me question the way men think about women and also drive me to drink like to get all sassy about their “ee vee oh oh” when they’re cooking. Behold as I wave my magic wand and make you disappear (that’s a remote control joke). As a rule of thumb, the higher the quality of the olive oil, the lower the smoke point is. Thus, the better it is, the less useful it is for cooking. Now, I’m not saying you should start doing all your cooking with canola or vegetable shortening. I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with those big cans (or big plastic bottles) of fairly generic extra virgin olive oil or even olive oils that are not extra virgin, or even virgin. This stuff is cheap. It has a high smoke point, and you can get more than 20 ounces of it at a time, which is good. This is what you’re supposed to cook with. Sure, it isn’t prestigious, but that’s because you aren’t going to put it out on the table in a clear dish for dipping bruschetta into. You’re going to use huge glugs of it at a time to make your food cook better and taste better. And you don’t want to go broke in the process. I cook almost exclusively with olive oil. We keep small amounts of sesame oil in the house for certain Asian dishes, and we have some extremely high smoke point stuff like safflower around for the wok, and baking gets done with something more neutral than olive oil. But if I’m cooking, I’m cooking with olive oil. Like my “go to” preserved vegetable items, I buy this stuff in bulk at the warehouse store. Seriously. There is no shame in this. You may find that many dishes actually taste better with a cheaper olive oil that brings less flavor into the mix. Try making steel cut oats one morning with that top shelf stuff and tell me it isn’t better with the cheap stuff.
Sorry, tangent over. Put your herbs into the blender or food processor with some of your good but not great olive oil. There’s a balancing act here, much like making the simple syrup with the mint, where you want just enough of the herb and the oil so that neither really dominates the mix. Store this in the squeeze bottle in the fridge. This will now keep much longer than fresh herbs do, but gives you a way to cook with fresh herb like flavor without wasting huge bushels of green leaves in the compost every two or three days. Just remember to take the bottle out and let the oil come up to room temperature before trying to use it, or it won’t come out of the bottle. Also remember to put it immediately back into the fridge when you’re done.
If you want to make an amazing salsa-type dip, dice up your veggies (onion, tomato, tomatillo, garlic, chili &c.) and then dress them with a bit of cumin, salt, and your cilantro oil. No nasty leaves in your teeth, and still that great, fresh, green lawn clippings flavor! Or, make an Italian cold salad with white beans (cannellini) and your basil oil.