When insects attack your growing basil or your garlic doesn’t grow to a desired size, don’t worry, you can still make delicious infused garlic oil recipes and salts with your imperfect herbs.
Last July, flash floods coursed through the area, turning pastures into lakes. Hail shredded leaves that had previously been pristine. My dreams of a beautiful Caprese salad tattered with the hail. In addition to that, I harvested heads of garlic smaller in diameter than a half-dollar. What was I going to do with garlic so tiny it wouldn’t sell? Simple: Make a garlic oil recipe and herb-infused salts. The completed basil-garlic oil recipe made an especially delectable ingredient for homemade tortillas while the salts stored all year, running out just in time for the next garlic harvest.
How to Make Infused Oils
A product that sells for top dollar in culinary shops is surprisingly easy and cost efficient to make. You only need oil, clean herbs, and containers to heat and/or store your finished product.
The Right Oil to Use
Though olive oil is healthiest and more accepted among foodies, canola is less expensive and lighter in flavor. Many people wonder “what is coconut oil is good for?” Well, fractionated coconut oil (the kind that stays liquid below 76 degrees) is costly but very stable for heating and cooling, so it works well for a garlic oil recipe. Choose whichever oil works best for your palette, health and budget.
For cold infusion, mix dry herbs with oil. Allow to steep three to six weeks, shaking every few days. Since heating allows the herbs to infuse better, place in a warm area, such as a window sill, and enjoy the beauty as the sun filters through.
Fresh herbs, or any spice that still contains moisture, should be heated within the oil to deter mold or bacterial growth.
Bruise or crush fresh herbs, or toast spices, to bring out the flavor. Mix with oil and heat in a saucepan until it bubbles. Allow to bubble for about five minutes, but don’t overcook. Cool completely and strain out the herbs with a cheesecloth or fine-mesh sieve. Store in a clean, airtight container in the fridge.
For an easier oven method, place mason jars within a roasting pan or high-sided cookie sheet to contain spills. Be sure to use actual canning jars, as they can withstand the heat. Stuff herbs and spices into the jars then fill the rest of the way with oil. Heat in the oven, at 300 degrees, for about half an hour. Either remove the pan from the oven or turn the heat off, allowing the oil to cool. Completely strain out the herbs and store in the fridge.
Since dried herbs don’t introduce moisture to the oil, the finished product can stay good for months in an airtight container at room temperature. Oils made with fresh herbs or garlic should be stored in the refrigerator and be used within a few weeks. If you made a large batch and worry that it’ll go rancid before you can use it all, freeze in ice cube trays then store the cubes in a freezer-safe container or bag for several months. Allow the cubes to thaw and return to room temperature before cooking, for best flavor.
Many different herbs can be used, including a harvest from your rosemary plant, cloves, cinnamon sticks, basil, oregano, garlic, sage, thyme, peppercorns, hot chilies, tarragon, citrus peel, and coriander. Create your own mixes.
Creative Oil Combinations
Roasted Garlic: First, roast a head or two of garlic. To save resources, use the garlic for bread or salt (see garlic salt recipe below) and use the peels for the garlic oil recipe. Or use the entire clove of roasted garlic. Additional herbs, such as basil and oregano, give this a Mediterranean flavor perfect for pizzas and pastas.
Lemon-Sage-Tarragon: Remove lemon zest with a vegetable peeler and infuse with fresh sage and tarragon. Use for roasted vegetables or to saute meats.
Thai-Spice: Combine lemon or lime zest, a chopped fresh or dried hot chili pepper, chopped or pressed garlic, chopped/bruised basil, and grated fresh ginger. Additional herbs can include lime leaves, lemongrass, or shallots. Excellent for meats or stir fries.
Sweet Spice: Break up a stick of Ceylon cinnamon. Add roasted cloves, ground nutmeg, and grated fresh ginger. For additional indulgence, slice a vanilla bean and add both pod and caviar or zest an orange with a vegetable peeler. Remember not to overcook the oil or you will burn the herbs. Use for Moroccan cooking or for desserts such as sautéed fresh apples.
How to Make Herb Salts
The basic recipe is incredibly simple: Mix the herb equally with salt. Dry. Store in an airtight container. Simple, right?
Puree the herb, such as onion or garlic, until fine. Mix equal portions with the salt of your choice: one tablespoon pressed garlic to one tablespoon salt. Though you can dry it in a windowsill or in your oven, a forced-air food dehydrator is quick and painless to the other occupants of your house.
Using this basic recipe, branch out to other herbs and salts. Simple iodized salt works fine but Himalayan pink salt produces a culinary masterpiece. Hawaiian red or black sea salts provide exceptional beauty when added to the finished product. While grinding the onion or garlic, toss in other herbs such as basil and oregano, remembering that pureed herbs will color the mixture. Juice a lime and grate a little zest. Don’t worry if the salts dissolve; they’ll crystallize again when they dry.
Salt has been used for millennia to store food. If done right, the product will last indefinitely, though quality declines as it ages or is introduced to moisture. To dry-seal your product, place it in a clean, dry canning jar and follow the instructions detailed on the Prepper Project site. Please remember this method is only safe for completely dry, non-perishable foods which contain no oil.
Creative Salt Combinations
Chili Lime Salt: Puree fresh garlic, lime juice, and a fresh jalapeno with the stem and seeds removed. A dry, ground jalapeno can also be used. Mix with salt and ground cumin. Adjust quantities to your taste for a hotter or milder spice. Use as a pre-made taco or fajita seasoning.
Roasted Barbeque Garlic Salt: Roast garlic with olive oil. Squeeze garlic from the peelings and use the peelings for infused oil. Combine garlic with a combination of four parts kosher salt and one part smoked sea salt. Dry completely. Additional ingredients can be roasted red pepper or tomato, pureed with the garlic before mixing with salt. Or try adding ground chipotle pepper or brown sugar to the dried product. Excellent for sprinkling on grilled meats or added to homemade barbecue sauce.
Bruschetta Salt: Puree fresh garlic and mix equally with salt. To retain the beauty of the individual herbs, dehydrate basil and oregano separately then combine all dry ingredients together. Additional dried herbs can include onion, roasted red pepper, tomato, hot pepper flakes, or ground black pepper. Use as a component of garlic bread or sprinkle on tomatoes before roasting.
Cilantro Lime: Simply use one tablespoon lime juice to one tablespoon salt. Add fresh cilantro and churn together. Finely grate the lime zest into the mixture. Spread in the tray insert of your dehydrator then dry completely. Use in mixed drinks or on top of taco meats.
Whether old, wilted, too small, or tattered from a hail storm, imperfect herbs can still make perfectly delicious salts and oils which rival professional culinary products.
Do you use imperfect herbs to make salts or a tasty garlic oil recipe? Let us know your favorite flavor combinations or techniques in the comments below.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.