Cooking with herbs: How to pair herbs with your food

bunch of herbs

How many herbs do you keep stocked in your kitchen? I keep the ones I use for making Italian dishes or Mexican food: basil and cilantro. Those two herbs also happen to be the ones I’ve had the most luck growing in containers. My grandma always keeps dried bay leaves on hand for making homemade vegetable soup.

Cooking with herbs can give your dishes new, delicious flavors. You can buy herbs at the grocery store, farmers markets or you can grow them at home. There are probably many herbs that you’ve never thought about cooking with before.

More about herbs:

How to grow herbs indoors

Top 10 tips for growing herbs

How to grow, harvest and preserve herbs for tea

Herb gardens have many benefits

If you haven’t used many herbs in your cooking before, here’s a guide to pairing herbs with your food. A lot of herbs are versatile and can be used on meat and vegetables as well as in salads and sauces. Some recipes will specify if dried or fresh herbs should be used. Recipes also typically indicate if herbs should be whole, chopped, diced or minced.

Food-Herb pairs

Here are some popular cooking herbs and what they pair well with:

Basil — lamb, veal, seafood, game meat, Italian food (pesto, tomato sauce, spaghetti), tomatoes, beans, eggplant, eggs, vinaigrette, soups (pea, potato, vegetable, minestrone)

Bay Leaf — beef, veal, tomatoes, soups

Chives — Meats, fish, eggs, cheeses, butters, breads, salads, vegetables, sauces, vinegars

Cilantro — Mexican cooking, Asian cooking, Caribbean cooking, chicken, shrimp, rice, salsa, tomatoes

Dill — Fish, eggs, yeast breads, potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, summer squash

Fennel — Fish, eggs, salads, sauces, seasonings

Lavender — use lightly in desserts; rhubarb, strawberries, honey, cream

Lemon Balm — Use dried lemon balm for meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, sauces

Marjoram — Beef, veal, chicken, fish, carrots, green beans, peas, summer squash, tomatoes

Mint — Lamb, peas, carrots, salads, fruit salads, sauces, desserts, teas

Oregano — Beef, veal, pork, chicken, game meat, clams, spaghetti, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, soups (tomato, minestrone, bean)

Parsley — pasta, corn, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, salads

Rosemary — Beef, veal, poultry, lamb, game meat, fish, dumplings, eggs, beans, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, summer squash, cauliflower, turnips, stews, soup (pea, vegetable)

Sage — Beef, pork, poultry, game meat, rice, stuffing, cottage cheese, carrots, peas, potatoes, summer squash, soups (vegetable, minestrone, chicken)

Tarragon — Chicken, fish, eggs, green beans

Thyme — Beef, veal, poultry, lamb, game meat, fish, oysters, eggs, rice, salads, vinegars, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, red potatoes, breads, butters, cheeses, chowders, soups (onion, tomato, vegetable)

Winter savory — dried bean dishes, stews

Sources: University of Nebraska-Lincoln ExtensionUniversity of Florida IFAS Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative ExtensionUniversity of Arkansas Cooperative Extension

Get more Great Recipes in your inbox each week by getting
Around the Table.

It's a FREE weekly e-newsletter all about food. Sign Up Today!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.