Dried herbs are convenient for winter cooking … but hey, it's spring! Time to start tossing lively, vibrant, fresh green herbs into everything from soups to desserts. Fresh herbs can mean the difference between a recipe that tastes good and one that gets applause. And they're healthy, too, packing a potent dose of antioxidant phytochemicals that may help protect against cancer and heart disease. In fact, many common cooking herbs have more antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables. "One study found that by adding herbs to a salad, the antioxidant level of the salad increased by 200 percent," says Julie Upton, MS, RD, of San Francisco. "This suggests that not only are herbs rich in antioxidants, they also act synergistically with other foods to boost the overall antioxidant capacity of the meal." Yet another good reason to go green this spring.

Fresh Basil and Thyme Tart with Chicken
Serves 10 / Basil blends wonderfully with almost any food. And each variety lends its own culinary characteristic: Lemon basil, licorice basil (also called Thai basil), clove basil, and cinnamon basil all suggest their namesakes.

Olive oil cooking spray
6 ounces sliced mushrooms
8 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup snipped fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 9-inch low-fat frozen whole-wheat piecrust, thawed
3 eggs
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 basil leaves, julienned

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Add mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until nearly dry. Transfer mushrooms with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Add spinach leaves and cook, tossing, until wilted, about 3–4 minutes. Cool and drain spinach in a colander, pressing out liquid with clean hands or the back of a spoon. Combine with mushrooms; add onion, chicken, cheese, 1/4 cup basil, and thyme. Place piecrust in a 9-inch pie dish and spoon chicken mixture onto crust.

2. Using the same bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, salt, and pepper until smooth; pour evenly over filling. Bake for 40 minutes or until firmly set in the center. Remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with julienned fresh basil leaves. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 188 calories
% fat calories: 48
Fat: 10g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 87mg
Protein: 13g
Carbohydrate: 12g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 327mg

Herb and Goat Cheese Pizza
Serves 8 / This herby pizza combines the earthy essence of sage, rosemary, and thyme in an aromatic topping. Sage and rosemary impart a slightly piney flavor with citrus undertones. And thyme, with a trace of clove and pepper, enhances almost any food. Prep tip: Look for time-saving, premade, trans-fat-free pizza dough and crusts in the refrigerated section of your natural market.

1 10-ounce whole-wheat pizza crust or prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large or 3 medium Roma tomatoes, sliced
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
12 fresh sage leaves, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Place prepared pizza crust on a baking sheet.

2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion for 5–8 minutes or until tender. Spread onions evenly over pizza crust, then top with tomato slices, spreading evenly to the edges. Top with cheese. Bake for 5 minutes, then sprinkle sage, thyme, and rosemary evenly over pizza. Return to oven and bake for 5–7 minutes more, or until tomatoes are hot and cheese has melted.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 159 calories
% fat calories: 39
Fat: 37g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 11mg
Protein: 6g
Carbohydrate: 19g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 225g

Scallop and Spring Vegetable Sauté with Creamy Tarragon Dressing
Serves 6 / Tarragon's assertive character can easily dominate or compete with other flavors, but its aniselike quality is well-suited to chicken and fish, lemon, and root vegetables, as well as creamy sauces and dressings. Ingredient tip: Be sure to use French tarragon and not Russian tarragon; the leaves look identical, but French tarragon leaves will smell of licorice and camphor when rubbed.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound bay scallops
1 cup julienned carrots (about 1 large carrot)
1 head broccoli (8 ounces), cut into bite-size florets
4 green onions, sliced
12 ounces fresh snow peas, ends trimmed

Dressing
2/3 cup reduced-fat (2 percent) milk
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 ounces softened low-fat cream cheese
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons snipped fresh French tarragon
1 tablespoon snipped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1. Make the dressing first: In a small saucepan or microwave-safe dish, combine milk and cornstarch and heat to a gentle simmer. Add cream cheese and heat until cheese melts and sauce thickens. Stir in lime juice, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté scallops over medium heat, 3–5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. In the same skillet, sauté carrots over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add broccoli and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more. Add green onions and cook for 1 minute. Add snow peas and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Return scallops to pan. Pour sauce over vegetables and scallops, toss to combine, and heat for 1–2 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 172 calories
% fat calories: 27
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 32mg
Protein: 18g
Carbohydrate: 15g
Fiber: 3g
Sodium: 289mg

Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Dill-Chervil Sauce
Serves 6 / This version of the classic French herbes mix substitutes baby dill for French tarragon and garlic chives for regular chives. The fresh flavors really sing in this deliciously light dressing (which would also taste great with grilled salmon). Ingredient tip: Chervil, a feathery-looking herb, has a light, subtle licorice taste.

Olive oil cooking spray
2 pounds fresh asparagus, tough ends trimmed
Sea salt and pepper
Dressing
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
1-2 tablespoons water or broth
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chervil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh baby dill
1 tablespoon snipped garlic chives
1/2 tablespoon fresh minced flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth. Adjust with more lemon juice, water, or broth to achieve desired taste and consistency.

2. Preheat oven to 450°. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Arrange asparagus spears in a single layer and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spray again with cooking spray. Roast 10–12 minutes (depending on thickness), or until tender and dark green.

3. Arrange roasted asparagus on a serving dish and drizzle with dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 68 calories
% fat calories: 33
Fat: 3g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 10mg
Protein: 4g
Carbohydrate: 8g
Fiber: 3g
Sodium: 48mg
How to store fresh herbs
1–2 days: Rinse, wrap loosely in a paper towel, and refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
Up to one week: Snip stem ends at a diagonal; place stems in a jar of water in a cool place, or cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate. Change water daily. More than one week: Place in a zip-top bag and gently press out excess air; freeze. Or chop and place in ice-cube trays, fill with water, and freeze; store cubes in freezer bags.

—K.W.

Lemon Verbena and Sage Biscuits
Serves 12 / Lemon verbena has the most authentic lemon flavor of any herb, although you can substitute lemon balm (plus a little fresh lemon zest if you like a lot of lemon flavor). Ingredient tip: If you can find it, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) makes a flavorful stand-in for regular sage. Serving tip: Serve for brunch with an egg-cheese casserole.

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup snipped fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 tablespoon snipped fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten, for brushing

1. Preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter using a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add lemon verbena, sage, and almonds; mix until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; pour egg mixture into well. Mix together, folding lightly just until dough clings together.

3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, pat dough into a 12-inch square. Cut into 12 squares. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool slightly on a baking rack; serve warm.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 216 calories
% fat calories: 34
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 40mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 31g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 217mg


Oregon-based Kris Wetherbee grows a variety of fresh herbs in her Tuscan courtyard garden, located within 10 feet of her kitchen. She is a freelance writer and recipe developer specializing in food, gardening, and outdoor living.


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