What's the big deal between your own dried herbs and those you buy in the little bottles? For starters, when you dry your own from fresh herbs, it is almost always cheaper. My bunch of bay leaves pictured above easily filled that 1/2 pint jar and the cost was $2, as opposed to the $4 plus you would have spent on a store bought version. Also, fresh dried is really better quality. Trust me, you will be able to smell and taste the difference.
Of course, if you grow herbs yourself, then you're well aware of what I'm talking about. But if not, check out farmers' markets or good natural food stores which may be carrying the winter herbs like bay leaves or sage or rosemary. Bring them home, hang them in a dark place (a cupboard or closet) that is cool and dry or even place them in a brown bag with handles and allow them to dry. Once the leaves are brittle and crumble easily, you can either store the entire bundle in a jar or crumble the leaves off the stalks.
Herbs are such an important part of my cooking that I often forget that many people are intimidated by herbs. Too often people wail at me, "but I don't know how to cook with herbs!" The truth is cooking with herbs is like cooking with anything, you simply allow your nose and taste buds to guide you. Smell or taste something and imagine pairing it with what ever is in your fridge or pantry. For instance, fresh or dried thyme almost always goes with lentils, tomato based soups, basically anything French, and especially southern France. I put bay leaves into all of my soups, stews, and bean dishes. They just add something that I cannot describe.
If you need more inspiration, check out the Herb section of my categories to the right. While parsley and cilantro figure heavily in my cooking, I also use lots of thyme, bay and oregano. Start exploring, it's so much fun!
Dried Bay Leaves
1 stalk of fresh bay leaves
glass jar with lid for storage
Place stalk in cool, dark place to dry for a couple of days. You can use a brown paper bag or hang the stalk with twine in a closet or cupboard. Hanging is best so that it allows air to circulate. When very dry and crisp, gently remove leaves from stalk and store in jar away from heat. Use as needed.
Recipes currently inspiring me:
Make Your Own Ketchup at Pinch My Salt
Pancetta and Porcini Potato Gratin at Closet Cooking
40 Cloves of Garlic Spaghetti at Cinnamon Girl Recipes