Last week, I posted all about slicing—what knives to use, how to keep them sharp and honed, and how to use a safe and fast slicing technique. I got a few requests for more posts on knife skills, so I thought I’d start by following it up with a quick post on chopping herbs.
Herbs are an essential part of Assyrian cuisine, as well as many other Middle Eastern cuisines, and we often use them with reckless abandon. So learning how to chop them efficiently is essential, especially if you don’t want to spend the entire afternoon prepping ingredients for a big batch of tabbouleh.
Before watching the videos below, I highly suggest reading my “how to slice” post, which will tell you everything you need to know before reading this one. I’ll attach the original slicing video below too, for anyone who wants a slowed-down explanation of “guiding the knife with your knuckles,” which is very important here too.
how to chop herbs
1) always thoroughly wash and dry your herbs
Here’s how: fill a big bowl of de-stemmed herbs with water, swish them around, gather them to the side of the bowl, dump out the water, refill it with more water, and then lift the leaves out. Place them on a clean towel, roll it up, and shake it up and down to dry them (or use a salad spinner).
Here’s why: if herbs are wet and/or wilted when you chop them, they will get super mushy and turn to brown goo instead of staying bright green and crisp. This is especially true for mint, which needs to be as dry as possible before you chop it.
A tip on preventing and sprucing up wilted herbs: wash herbs in cold water to keep them from wilting, and let them sit in ice water for a few minutes if they’re already a little wilted.
2) always store herbs wrapped in a damp towel in a sealed container
You can simply keep them wrapped in the damp kitchen towel you used to dry them, or transfer them to another one if it’s too soaked. Place the rolled up towel in a resealable container.
If they are not yet chopped, they will keep for several days like this, sometimes even as long as 2 weeks (depending on how fresh the herbs were to start, and how cold your fridge is). On the other hand, if they are chopped, they will only last a day or two stored this way (and even less if stored improperly). Careful—cut herbs will stain fabric, so feel free to use a couple paper towels if that’s gonna be an issue.
Different herbs have different shelf lives—e.g., mint and dill don’t last as long as cilantro, which doesn’t last as long as parsley. Woodier herbs like thyme and rosemary need less moisture, and will keep much longer.
You can instead use paper towels and plastic wrap, but it’s less wasteful to use reusable containers and washable towels if you’ve got them around.
3) use proper technique for chopping herbs
First, make sure you know how to safely guide the knife with your knuckles (see my slicing post and video, the first one to the right of this column).
Roll up the clean, dry leaves into a tight ball. Hold that ball of herbs in place with your non-dominant hand, with your tucked-under fingers. Hold the knife in your dominant hand, and slice ribbons, using your knuckles to guide the knife. As always, be safe, keep your fingers in the whole time, and do not let the blade go over your knuckles.
As you near the end, keep the knife down, and re-gather the leaves together. Use the stability of the side of the knife to help gather them together tightly. Once they’re together, tuck your fingers back in and continue slicing (do not lift up the blade before you’re ready to slice).
Once you’ve gone through them all, continue chopping in the other direction, slightly rolling the knife back and forth, and keeping your fingers completely out of the way.