If it's the middle of summer, and you have loads of fresh herbs growing in your garden, you probably want to cook with them while you can. But, what if the recipe you're working on calls for dried herbs? Is there a way to use fresh herbs instead?
Fortunately, it's pretty simple to substitute fresh herbs for the dried herbs called for in most recipes. You'll wind up using more of the fresh herb, because the flavor isn't as concentrated in fresh herbs as it is in dried herbs, but if you have lots growing in your garden, that probably doesn't matter much.
Here are some general guidelines you can follow when substituting fresh herbs for dried. These apply to the vast majority of the herbs that you're likely to grow in your garden. A few herbs fall outside of these guidelines, but we'll talk about those exceptions, too.
General Rule to Substitute Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs
For most herbs — even unusual ones such as orange thyme, ginger mint and winter savory — simply replace the dried herb called for with three times as much of the fresh herb. This will give you a good flavor match, so the herb stands out as much as it's intended to in the dish.
For example, if your recipe calls for a teaspoon of dried oregano, use a tablespoon of fresh oregano in its place. Likewise, If the recipe calls for half a teaspoon of dried parsley, use one-and-a-half teaspoons of fresh parsley. Easy enough!
But as we already mentioned, there are a few common herbs where this ratio doesn't work well. Fresh oregano, for example, can be quite strong, and may taste metallic. Therefore, it's best to tread carefully when substituting it for dried oregano in a recipe. Since you most likely won't need anywhere near three times as much fresh oregano to achieve the intended flavor, start with a small amount; do a taste test; and then add more, until the flavor is just right.
Knowing When to Substitute Herbs
Some herbs work best when dried, while others need to be fresh to taste "right" in certain recipes.
Fresh basil, for example, is the main ingredient in pesto, a green Italian sauce that also includes olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese. To make a good pesto, you can't really substitute dried basil for fresh — the pesto just won't taste the same, and the finished product won't have the right texture and appearance, either. You'll either want to use fresh basil, or fresh basil that you froze during the growing season.
On the other hand, many chefs believe that dried oregano tastes better than fresh; and find that it works more effectively in dishes, such as tomato sauce and Greek roasted potatoes. So, you'll probably want to stick to dried oregano when a recipe calls for it.
Dried and fresh thyme, however, tends to work just as well in most recipes, so it's a good example of an herb that you can substitute with confidence.
Consider How Much is Called For
Swapping fresh herbs for dried herbs is likely to add some extra bulk to a recipe (after all, you're adding three times as much of an ingredient as the recipe calls for), so be sure to consider how this will affect your recipe. Will the fresh herbs overpower other ingredients in the recipe? Will it change the look or texture of the recipe in an undesirable way? If so, you may want to look for another dried herb that you can use in place of the one that you're out of, or consider making something else, until you can get to the store for more.
The Bottom Line
When making a substitution that's likely to affect the flavor of your dish, it's best to take things slowly. Start with one-and-a-half times the recommended amount of dried herb; then, move up from there, tasting as you go. If you follow this approach, you're likely to find a ratio that works well for both your recipe and your personal tastes. Remember, it's much easier to add more of an herb that it is to take it out.
For the biggest flavor impact, wait to add your fresh herbs until close to the end of the cooking time, unless, of course, you're roasting meat. Then, they can (and should) go in right away.