Friday, May 30, 2014

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs | Herbed Polenta Showdown

If you ever want to find out my crazy rambling interests, just take a peak at my Pinterest board along the right side of the blog... 


Learning about the uses of herbs have come as a slow integration of the cooking experience. However, I cannot say that I have fully experienced the eye-opening opportunity of tasting several herbs individually, both dried and fresh in order to contemplate their impact on the flavors of our dishes. So, today's lab was a great experiment! I highly recommend anyone who wants to punch up their meals in a healthy way to open your spice drawer and pick up their fresh counterparts to do a little side by side comparison... these are my findings:

Dried Herb

Small, stick-like, light green
Stiff, sharp ends, not as easily crumbled
Woody, clean
Italian (Flat leaf) Parsley
Papery, darker green, lightweight
Mellow, with high notes towards the end
Crisp, lightweight, thin, crumbly
Fine, small whole leaves, light green-to-yellow
Bitter and soapy, very astringent towards the end
Light, stiff, crumbly
Ground fine, powder, green with a touch of grey color
Musky, deep
Slight mustard smell

Fresh Herb

Long, evergreen type leaves,
Slightly bitter, with a little pepper taste, a fresh citrus-like note
Firm, shiny leaves with a thick stem
Bright aroma, similar to citrus
Italian (Flat leaf) Parsley
Light, airy leaves, flexible stems
Somewhat bitter, when bitten into, sharp flavor
Lightweight, easily chewed thin leaves
Very little smell
Petite green leaves on stiff stick-like stem
Sharp, peppery
Fragrant, sharp
Soft leaves, green with fuzzy surface
Astringent, pungent, like the pith of a citrus fruit
Soft, pliable leaves with a velvety texture
High notes of freshness


Ground cloves
Dark brown, powder
Deep, spicy, with pepper flavor towards the end
Rich, full, spicy

Putting it to the test...

To make things more interesting, we were asked to prepare a recipe containing herbs two ways: one with fresh herbs and one with dried herbs. I found this recipe at the American Institute for Cancer Research. The original recipe calls to be served with grilled portobello mushrooms, but because my focus was on the herbs, I omitted them.

Herbed Polenta

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup non-instant polenta or cornmeal
4 cups boiling water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (or 2 Tbsp dried)
1 tsp. crumbled fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 tsp. dried
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4tsp. dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (1 oz.) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Canola oil spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In deep, heavy pot, combine oil and polenta. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until polenta smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add boiling water carefully to avoid spatters. Stir until polenta is smooth. Mix in garlic, parsley, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Bake polenta, uncovered 20 minutes. Stir well. Bake additional 20 minutes, or until polenta is creamy. Divide among 4 dinner plates. Sprinkle each with a quarter of the cheese.

Here is the Tasha review: 

During the herb analysis, I determined that the flavor of the dried thyme leaves were very bitter and somewhat soapy tasting, but the fresh version was crisp and peppery. As I suspected, when the dishes were complete, the polenta with the dried herbs had a stronger, more bitter flavor than the polenta with the fresh herbs. The polenta with the fresh herbs smelled brighter, with high notes from the fresh herbs, while the polenta with the dried herbs had a more deep, earthy aroma. Visually, the polenta with the fresh herbs had more of a “garden fresh” look because of the brighter green herbs, which made it more appealing. 

All of this makes me very happy that I have recently expanded my herb garden and hope to gain much more experience in introducing fresh herbs to our happy, healthy plates.... 

Green is the new black...


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