Little flecks of green parsley make plates look pretty, but antioxidant-rich herbs are more than just a garnish. Using handfuls of herbs instead of pinches can pack more nutrition onto your plate. Basil contains the antioxidant beta-carotene and may decrease the immune response to allergens. Mint has phenolic compounds with strong antioxidant activity, along with vitamin A, folate and potassium.
Here are easy ways to use big bunches of basil, mint, parsley, arugula and other herbs as healthy leafy greens.
Make classic herb sauces from around the globe
Pureeing fistfuls of parsley, cilantro, garlic, and olive oil is the basic recipe for the classic Argentinian steak sauce chimichurri; try it on our Dry-Rubbed Flank Steak. An Indian chatni or chutney contains similar ingredients with the addition of fresh mint like in Curry Rubbed Swordfish Steaks with Fresh Green Herb Chutney. Italian Blanched Basil Pesto includes bunches of basil along with parsley, olive oil and cheese. Liberally drizzle any or all of these zesty green sauces over eggs, vegetables, or whole grains.
Slice and dice up spicy salsas
The addition of tomatoes, mangos or avocados to the classic herb sauce makes for a colorful salsa. Cilantro combines with garlic, avocado and tomatillos in our recipe for Avocado Salsa Verde. When making pureed-style salsas, add another couple handful of herbs for extra nutrition, and to use up bits of herbs that may otherwise become food waste. Even a chunk-style Mango Salsa is delicious when the amount of fresh herbs is doubled.
Stir into steamy soups or pastas
When making hot dishes, add delicate herbs at the end of cooking to avoid limp, flavorless leaves. A whole cup of sweet basil is stirred into this Tomato Basil Soup. Our Zucchini Ribbon Pasta calls for over a cup of basil and parsley. Any pasta or soup recipe is a smart place to add extra herbs. Toss fresh chives or dill into canned soups or jarred pasta sauces to boost the antioxidant content.
Serve dinner on a bed of herbs
Practically any recipe that concludes with “sprinkle with parsley” can be served atop an herb salad of parsley, dill and arugula. A plateful of tender herbs is the perfect base for delicate seafood, like Scallops Provencal. Instead of rice, serve Chicken Piccata on a crisp herb salad.
Don’t toss fronds or leaves
Cooks often discard fennel fronds and celery leaves. Don’t! Fennel contains a significant amount of the antioxidant vitamin C; both fennel and celery have anti-inflammatory properties. Besides nutrition, celery leaves have a snappy flavor that adds tasty contrast to sweet apples in Waldorf Salad. Fennel fronds enhance dishes like Roasted Fennel with Parmesan with a fresh sweet-anise note.
Swap in an herb salad
Instead of a predictable green lettuce salad, serve a whole grain and herb salad. These salads use whole bunches of herbs and are a refreshing change of pace. Try our Quinoa Tabbouleh or Mediterranean Farro Salad.
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a food writer and registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com sharing tips and tricks to help families find healthy living shortcuts. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Snapchat.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.