Fresh herbs drive me crazy sometimes, since most recipes call for a small amount relative to how they're packaged at the store. I can't count the number of times I've bought, say, a whole bunch of parsley, then used only a few tablespoons and seen the rest go to waste. If you use herbs mainly for garnish, it's nearly impossible to get through them fast enough—even if you follow our advice about how to store fresh herbs and put the stems to good use. And even if you have live herb plants of your own, they often do best when regularly cut back, so you may still find yourself with a pile of trimmings to get through.
There is a solution, though: Turn to recipes in which the herbs are a main ingredient, rather than a garnish. Half a cup or more of basil, cilantro, mint, or any other fresh herb can be just the ticket for adding a lively flavor to all sorts of dishes. From chickpea salad with dill to fluffy falafel packed with cilantro and parsley to the most refreshing mint ice cream, here are the recipes to help ensure you never waste fresh herbs again.
The Best Tabbouleh Salad
While some tabbouleh recipes go heavy on the bulgur, the dish is fundamentally all about the parsley—there should be only enough grain and vegetables to complement the herb. To keep the tabbouleh from getting soggy, we salt and drain the parsley and tomatoes, then use the tomato juices to soak the bulgur so that no flavor is lost.
The Best Pesto
Though we've got many, many recipes incorporating fragrant basil, making your own pesto is one of the best investments you'll find for both your herb crop and your time. And yes, it will require some time, because the absolute best pesto, with the richest flavor and most luxurious texture, comes from hand-grinding with a mortar and pestle. Trust us—the effort is worth it. You'll want to use extra-virgin olive oil, of course, but for a sauce that stays focused on the basil, look for one that's not too strongly flavored.
Easy, Herb-Packed Falafel
For falafel balls that fry up fluffy instead of pasty and dense, start by grinding soaked dried chickpeas in a food processor—the resulting rough purée needs no added binder to just hold together, producing light and crisp falafel. Packing in a big mix of herbs, including parsley, cilantro, and mint, gives it the best flavor. We recommend keeping the balls on the small side, so they'll have the best ratio of crisp exterior to soft, moist interior.
Make-Ahead Quinoa Salad With Cucumber, Tomato, and Herbs
If you like tabbouleh, but find it's not quite filling enough to be a meal in and of itself, this is the recipe for you. This make-ahead salad starts with tabbouleh's flavor profile, but adds hearty, nutty quinoa for bulk. As with tabbouleh, it's important to salt and drain the vegetables to remove excess moisture (and don't forget to drain the quinoa thoroughly, too).
Easy, Summery Zucchini-Basil Soup
This recipe makes good use of two summer-garden items that cooks often have way too much of: zucchini and basil. Happily, the prolific plants work well together in this incredibly easy, 20-minute soup. It's flavored with leeks, whose gentle flavor complements the mildness of zucchini well, and cooked just long enough for the squash to break down, then blended with an immersion blender until it's smooth and vivid green. Adding the basil in two stages produces layers of its fresh, herbal flavor.
Grilled Corn, Tomato, Feta, and Herb Salad
As good as this dish is, you'll want to resist making it until corn and tomatoes are at their peak—which is to say, around August. Why? It's a simple salad with very few components, most of them quintessential summer ingredients, and that means that the quality of those ingredients is paramount. We grill the corn until it's sweet and smoky, then toss it with perfectly ripe tomatoes, salty feta, and whatever leafy herbs are on hand (parsley, basil, and mint are all lovely choices). As long as the produce is good, the salad hardly needs a dressing—we use nothing more than olive oil and lemon juice.
Vegan Tofu and Herb Salad
You can make this salad with just about any light, spring-y or summery vegetables you like—lettuce leaves, radishes, cucumber—and any soft herbs you have on hand, such as mint, basil, or cilantro (or a mix). The real keys are the strips of aburaage, or fried tofu, that provide heft and a pleasantly chewy texture, and the powerful flavors of the dressing: ginger, garlic, soy sauce, lime juice, Thai chile, and kala namak, or Himalayan black salt.
Roman-Inspired Mixed-Green Salad (Misticanza alla Romana)
If you think a mixed-green salad can't be exciting, chances are you just haven't had a truly good one. This recipe—though it's really more a set of guidelines—follows the Roman tradition of making simple salads, which revolves around finding the best quality and widest range of flavorful leaves you can get your hands on. This is a good opportunity to visit your farmers market and load up on all the unusual salad greens that appear during the spring and summer. While you're at it, feel free to throw in basil, mint, chervil, fennel fronds, tarragon, and any other fresh herbs that need eating—they'll add valuable flavor and complexity to the mix.
Easy Make-Ahead Carrot and Chickpea Salad With Dill and Pumpkin Seeds
Perfect for taking to work or school for lunch, this salad combines chickpeas with grated carrots, toasted pumpkin seeds, tons of dill, and a simple vinaigrette. It's one of those dishes whose flavor actually improves as it sits. You can use canned chickpeas to make the salad extra fast, but cooked-from-dried ones will have better flavor and texture.
Roasted-Chickpea and Kale Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Here we embrace the convenience of canned chickpeas, but we also roast them, which concentrates their nutty flavor and crisps them up just slightly. We then mix the roasted chickpeas with hearty kale leaves, cilantro, mint, scallions, and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette to make a satisfying salad—like the one above, it gets even better if you let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Vietnamese Citrus and Noodle Salad With Fresh Herbs and Fried Yuba
Packed with intense textures and flavors, this Vietnamese-inspired salad is simultaneously light and filling. We make it with fried yuba (tofu skin), rice noodles, grapefruit, fresh vegetables like carrot and cucumber, and a big handful each of mint and cilantro. While Vietnamese salads are often dressed with fish sauce, we use soy sauce and Maggi seasoning instead to keep this one vegan-friendly.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
Our version of cold peanut noodles goes heavy on the produce—so much so that it's more of a vegetable salad that happens to have some noodles mixed in. We use all sorts of veggies, including bell peppers, cucumber, mung bean sprouts, and a full cup of fresh basil, mint, and/or cilantro. To balance out the vegetal bite, we toss all the ingredients in a rich yet bright peanut butter–based dressing, flavored with soy sauce, chile sauce, and lime juice or rice wine vinegar.
Sichuan Shirataki Sesame Noodle Salad With Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chile Oil, and Peanuts
Peanut noodles are a reliable option when you're craving an Asian-style cold noodle salad, but they're not the only one. This recipe uses shirataki—light, slippery noodles made of yam starch—mixed with hot and numbing Sichuan peppercorn and chile-infused oil, black vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and peanuts. Scallions, cucumber, and cilantro (both leaves and tender stems) brighten up the salad.
Easy Vegan Crispy Tofu Spring Rolls With Peanut-Tamarind Dipping Sauce
Salads aren't the only way to use lots of fresh herbs—you can also pack them into spring rolls. Or, better yet, set out a stack of wrappers and bowls of fillings, and let your guests create their own! Cilantro, mint, Thai basil, julienned carrots, pea shoots, and toasted peanuts are all solid add-ins for these vegan rolls, filled with crispy slow-cooked tofu and served with a peanut-tamarind sauce for dipping.
Grilled Vegetable and Jasmine Rice Salad With Herbs and Cashews
This variation on a Thai grilled-beef salad takes a meat-light approach, replacing the beef with grilled onion, carrots, snap peas, peppers, and jalapeños—it's still got plenty of herbs, though, including Thai basil, cilantro, and mint. The only thing that keeps the recipe from being vegetarian is a tablespoon and a half of fish sauce, which we mix into the vinaigrette.
Isan-Style Thai Sliced-Steak Salad
If you want your steak salads to have, well, steak in them, try this Isan-style salad made with beef, onion, tomato, mint, and basil. The dressing really makes the salad—the potent mix of garlic, dried and fresh chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar gives the salad that classic sour-salty-sweet-spicy Thai flavor.
Isan-Style Spicy Thai Fried Pork Rind and Herb Salad
This recipe stars an ingredient you probably don't associate with salad: store-bought pork rinds. No, they don't have quite the same texture of homemade chicharrones, but they do allow you to make this flavorful salad in just about 10 minutes. We combine the pork rinds with fresh cilantro and mint, tomatoes, mung bean sprouts, red onion, and scallions, plus a fiery dressing flavored with Thai chile, lime, and fish sauce.
Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chiles (Phat Bai Horapha)
This classic dish of Thai-style beef cooked with onion and lots of basil is quick enough to make a great weeknight dinner. Use Thai purple basil if you can find it, though ordinary sweet basil will work as well. As with our pesto and all chile pastes, smashing the aromatics with a mortar and pestle is the surest route to the best flavor. Brown the beef in batches to sear it without overcooking.
Steak and Corn Salad With Salsa Verde
This hearty yet refreshing salad is a great way to use up leftover steak, so it's perfect for lunch the day after a barbecue. Start by cutting the chilled beef into thin slices, then toss it with cooked fresh corn, red onion, and a punchy Spanish salsa verde flavored with pickles, capers, anchovies, fresh parsley and mint, and olive oil.
Grilled Chicken and Cabbage Salad With Creamy Tahini Dressing
Another helpful way to use up leftover meats, this recipe gives grilled chicken new life by massaging it with olive oil and lemon juice, then mixing it with crunchy red cabbage and a creamy tahini-based dressing. To keep the salad light and refreshing, we also add half a cup each of chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro.
Shredded Chicken With Soba and Miso-Butter Sauce
This deceptively easy, one-pot chicken dish gets its compelling flavor from the magical combination of salty, savory miso paste and rich, creamy butter. We sear and poach the chicken, then cook the soba in the same pot so that it picks up extra flavor from the drippings. After mixing together the chicken, noodles, and sauce, we finish it all with fresh scallions, cilantro, and bean sprouts.
DIY Chicken and Dill Instant Noodles
This recipe combines the convenience of instant noodles with the satisfaction of a home-cooked meal. We assemble the dish by filling resealable glass jars with chicken base, peas, onion, chicken, and noodles, plus fresh dill sealed in plastic bags. When it's time to eat, remove the dill, add boiling water, and let the noodles sit for two minutes, then mix the dill back in. You'll be the envy of everyone in your office when you bring these to work.
Warm Couscous Salad With Salmon and Mustard-Dill Dressing
Dill, mustard, and salmon is a classic trio. Here, we make it into a full meal by mixing pearled couscous with flaked seared salmon, dill, mustard, and lemon juice. To make the salad a little more filling, we also wilt in a big handful of spinach right before serving.
Fresh Basil Mousse
Basil, more commonly found alongside fresh fruits when it's served as part of a dessert, works surprisingly well with dairy in this lovely pale-green mousse. Perhaps even more surprisingly, white chocolate blends seamlessly with the herb's heady scent, while also making the mousse rich and thick, even in the absence of eggs. It's somewhat similar to a panna cotta with whipped cream folded in. Serve it alone, or top it with sliced fresh summer fruit, like strawberries or nectarines.
The Best Mint Chip Ice Cream
You can't achieve the same intensity of mint flavor using herbs that you will with mint extract, but the roundness of flavor you'll get from fresh mint in this ice cream is beyond compare. We steep the mint leaves in hot cream and milk for two hours to extract the best flavor before making the custard, chilling, and churning. As for the "chip," we prefer to incorporate long swirls of chocolate, stracciatella-style, instead of traditional nubbins, which tend to get tooth-crackingly hard when frozen.