Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Herbs

I was talking to someone about growing herbs recently--I think I was bemoaning the state of my basil plants--and she said she wasn't sure what to do with herbs, so they ended up going bad in her fridge. 

Before I go on to the main topic of the post, I'll just say here that herbs were kind of my gateway plant to gardening.  About eight years ago, I asked my folks if I could plant some herbs in a small patch in their garden, and they graciously allowed me to.  I've made bags and bags of pesto cubes since.  I've grown basil (hence, the pesto), rosemary, oregano, sage, mint, cilantro, dill and thyme.  I tried growing cilantro and parsley but the rabbits got to it quickly--we did wrap some chicken wire fencing around it one year and it did okay.  My mother grows shallots, which are perennials, and the sage that I planted about four years ago is huge and healthy.  That thing will never die.

So, here's what I do with fresh herbs:

Freeze them.  They often freeze well, as long as you don't expect to use them as a garnish.  If you need a fresh-tasting herb in a recipe (as opposed to dried) this is a good option (especially for basil, which has a very different taste dried.  It's delicious either way, but very very different).  If you need them to look pretty, this isn't the way for you to use them, though.

I'll chop them and toss them in omlettes, with scrambled eggs, in salads, on fish or chicken, in hummus or other dips, in soups, with vegetables (especially if I sautee greens, some herbs with bitter greens are lovely), or you can make some nice flavored oils or vinegars with them.  I plan to use some of the herbs I'm growing to make flavored vinegars and can them.  Those are good on salads.

I'll sautee zucchinni with some olive oil, garlic, and chopped herbs--maybe some rosemary and thyme, or some basil, or some oregano, whatever I feel like.  I let it cook down, sprinkle some parmesean cheese on it, and eat.  It's a lovely, light meal on its own or a delicious side.  (Hat tip to my mom, who taught me that recipe.  It also works well with summer squash.)

If I'm making rice or couscous, I'll chop some herbs and add them to the water or stock I'm cooking it in.

In the summer, I will make a cold soup with pureed cucumber, red onion, crushed ice, and mixed herbs.  I especially like using parsley and mint with this.  I also like adding chopped mint to salads; it adds a nice burst of sweetness.

If I'm roasting a chicken in the oven or in the slow cooker, I'll stuff it with fruit and/or an onion and herbs (sage, rosemary, or thyme work well).

If I'm making a quick tomato sauce from crushed tomatoes, I'll add some chopped oregano, garlic, and basil to the sauce.  Sometimes I'll add rosemary or thyme for a different flavor.

Mint is an herb I use a lot of--I chop it up and mix it with plain yogurt and fruit.  I put it in cold soups and salads as I mentioned above.  And I'll tear and crush the leaves and put them in ice water or iced tea.  It adds a very nice flavor.  If I have hot tea--either caffienated or herbal--I'll sometimes add mint leaves to enhance the flavor.  I also chop it up and serve it with lamb--I'll make it available for people to put on their servings of rosemary lamb chili (which is just divine) or I'll chop it up and make it part of the herb rub if I'm making lamb chops.  (I'll usually combine a little salt, pepper, chopped garlic, chopped mint, and chopped rosemary and rub it on the chops before baking or broiling them.)

Sage is delcious fried.  I'll fry it up in some olive oil and let it get very crispy.  It makes a good garnish for soups, for beef, or as a sinful little snack/side.  You can take frozen sage out of the freezer and fry it up and it will get just as crispy.
 
What I love about herbs is that they are basically weeds (go on, see how someone who seeks to maintain a pristine lawn feels about mint).  They are not tender, they are very tough, and boy do they add flavor.  And they also add a lot of nutrition.  I have a lot of dried herbs that I got from the supermarket--it's not worth my while to dry basil or rosemary or oregano--but when I have them fresh I really use what I have.

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