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5 Ways to Transform Simple Meals with Herbs

A cutting board with pesto, fresh herbs, pine nuts, and spices.
Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

Herbs are a simple way to inject a lot of flavor into your cooking with little effort. Here are five simple ways to add a splash of flavor to your meals.

Pesto

Chopping herbs really fine, adding olive oil and garlic (or onions), and a few other secret ingredients will go well with any item on your plate. Whether it’s pasta, a piece of steak, a fillet of fish, crispy tofu, or roasted vegetables, a touch of herbs will freshen up your palate. Herbs can also create an incredible aroma and extract all the flavors from the other ingredients.

One of the most famous herb sauces is pesto: a wonderful combination of basil, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil. It’s equally delicious dripped all over your favorite pasta or spooned over a piece of meat.

It’s also pretty easy to make—you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 6 cups of basil leaves (or any other herb you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts (or any you prefer; cashews and walnuts also work well), toasted
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan (or any other hard cheese), grated
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Feel to play with the greens and other ingredients, and experiment with different pairings.

Next, follow these instructions:

  1. Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor or high-speed blender and pulse a few times until they’re all broken into small pieces.
  2. Pour in the olive oil as you blend on low.
  3. Scrape the sides, as needed, and add a bit more olive oil if the mixture looks too dry.

Mint-Yogurt Dip

You can never go wrong with a good dip, but adding chopped herbs creates an array of aromatic sensations. Take mint, for example: it makes every dish lighter and easier to digest, while also adding precious minerals.

It works well in our favorite yogurt dip; here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of plain (or Greek or vegan) yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt and black pepper

Follow these instructions:

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Pace in the refrigerator for at least one hour to cool and blend all the flavors nicely.
  3. Serve with cruditès, falafel, meatballs, roasted veggies, or even as a dollop on soup.

Salad Dressing

A homemade rosemary, garlic, and lemon salad dressing in a small canning jar.
Vanillaechoes/Shutterstock

Elevate your salads with a fresh herb dressing to coat every leaf and make every bite a delicious, juicy experience. You can choose any herbs you like, so experiment with different dressings until you find the one you like the most.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • A handful of your fresh herbs of choice
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon (or lime) juice
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar (wine, balsamic, white balsamic, apple cider)
  • A pinch of salt and black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)

Follow these steps:

  1. Blend all ingredients in a food processor or high-speed blender.
  2. Pour over your favorite salad.
  3. Toss well until every leaf is coated and enjoy!

Marinade

A marinade is a great way to add a punch of flavor to meats and vegetables. Depending on the herb and spice blend, you can make your steak, potatoes, or anything else, taste completely different.

While you can buy them ready-made, homemade marinades are easy, delicious, and economical.

Marinades enhance the flavors of meat, fish, fresh vegetables, tofu, and even soft cheeses, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

To make one of the simplest herb marinades, gather the following ingredients:

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinegar (wine, balsamic, rice, or apple cider)
  • 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of mixed fresh herbs (oregano, sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme)
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic, chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of coarse salt and black pepper

Then, follow these simple steps:

  1. Whisk all ingredients together.
  2. Rub the mixture on your meat, fish, or veggies until fully coated.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more (meat can be left overnight).
  4. Cook or bake your dish accordingly.

You can discard any leftover marinade. Enjoy!

Herb-Infused Olive Oil

If you spice up your regular extra-virgin olive oil with herbs, it will enhance whatever you use it on. Whether you drizzle it over grilled fish, veggies, or salads, or pour it in some hummus, herb-infused oils will bring something exciting and new to the table.

Plus, they’re super-easy to make! All you really need is a big oil bottle or container and a bunch of herbs. You can make basil or oregano-infused olive oil, or mix more than one herb if you want a more Mediterranean or Middle Eastern vibe.

Just place your herbs of choice in the container with the olive oil, and then close it tightly. Your oil will never be the same again! It will smell and taste just like the herbs you added to it.

Now, the only thing left to do is drizzle it on your favorite dishes.


Next time you’re at the farmer’s market, grocery store, or in your backyard garden, grab a bunch of fresh herbs and start experimenting!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »

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