The Herbalist

I love to garden and I love growing herbs. When I owned a house, my backyard was my herb garden. At one time or the other I have grown; Lemon Thyme (the best), Basil, Dill, Lavender that smelled incredible after a rain, Epazote a Mexican herb , Mexican Marigold Mint, Mint, Lemon Balm, Cilantro (that spread all over the yard), Salad Burnet, a cucumber flavored herb, Sage( which I never had much luck with), Lemon Grass, Curry Plant(good but toxic in large amounts), Nasturtium (the flowers are great in a salad) and even Bay leaf.

The thing I love most about growing herbs is picking and having them fresh for whatever meal I am preparing. Herbs and spices add so many flavors to a meal. I would like to share with you some of the uses I have come up with over the years. I will include some information and simple ideas for using herbs. Some of these will be very familiar to you, others may be new.

In Dallas there is a Nursery in Highland Park, Northhaven Gardens http://www.nhg.com/
that carries a variety of herb plants. If you are local to the area, you might check it out and try your hand at a few of the more unusual herbs. I use fresh herbs unless otherwise stated.

Here is a rundown of some of my favorites:

Chervil- This is a very delicate, mild licorice flavored herb. It is in the parsley family. I have found it fresh at the Grocery, WholeFoods or Central market in the packages you find in the fresh vegetable area.

My favorite use, I learned from my chef/friend Wade. He sliced fresh radishes added a dollop of good quality unsalted butter (European or Danish is best), topped it with a sprig of Chervil and a little good quality salt. That’s all there is to it and it is great.

I also like to make Chervil butter to add to fish, veggies or to use with scrambled eggs. Mix one stick of softened butter with 1/3 cup of chopped chervil.

Lavender is my favorite scent, but as a culinary herb it must be used sparingly or it will taste like soap. It is used in making Herbs de Provence.

You can buy a good quality Herbs de Provence and mix it with some fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Put some of the marinade aside for use in grilling and the rest you can use as a marinade for Tuna or Salmon. Marinate it for at least 30 minutes. Grill the fish to desired doneness, basting with the reserved marinade. You can serve it as is or with some lemon (low fat) mayonnaise on toasted buns.

Here is a link to a recipe for a cheese spread that uses fresh lavender blossoms and other herbs. The pretty purple flowers make a very nice presentation. You can always use low fat cream cheese for this. http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/3653/cream-cheese-with-herbes-de-provence-and-garlic

Rosemary- The stems make great skewers for grilled fish and the sprigs can be used as basters with a marinade. When you have a sore throat, hot rosemary lemonade can be very soothing. Heat a cup of water in the microwave (or on the stove) as you would for tea. Squeeze a half of lemon in it, add honey to sweeten it and steep a sprig of rosemary in the lemonade for a few minutes. Remove the sprig and enjoy. I also have made a similar tea with culinary lavender or with sugar infused with lavender.

Dill- Ok, my Albanian heritage comes out when I think of dill. You can cook salmon on the stove with lemon, butter and fresh or dried dill (or bake it topped with lemon and dill butter). You can make a cucumber salad with mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and dill ( also add cherry tomatoes and slices of sweet green or red pepper). I also use dill in making stuffed grape leaves in the Spring and add fresh sprigs of dill to Greek salad which I mentioned in an earlier post. I plan on making a salmon, potato and dill chowder. Sounds like a good combination.

Salad Burnet- Ok this one may not be too familiar and not so easy to find. I would check a nursery that has a variety of herbs. They may carry this one. Salad Burnet is a cucumber flavored herb. It is parsley like and the cucumber flavor is very subtle. I have used it in a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook for Flounder Florentine. Basically you sauté onion, chopped spinach, and dill until the spinach wilts. Here I make my own addition of some chopped salad burnet. Mix in chopped toasted almonds and lemon juice, cool then spoon over flounder filets. Roll up, put in an oiled baking pan and bake at 375 until the fish flakes.

Oregano- We think of it as an Italian herb but it is also in Mexican and many other cuisines. If you haven’t eaten fresh Oregano, please try it, very different. A good use for it is in a sandwich of lightly toasted Rosemary bread, sliced ripe tomatoes, sliced sweet green peppers, feta or cheddar cheese, mayo and fresh oregano. If you have to add luncheon meat go at it but it is great as a veggie sandwich.

Bay Leaf
- When I went to the Culinary Institute they had a bay tree growing out front. We would plan our menu then go out and pick the leaves fresh from the tree for cooking. My favorite use for bay leaf is Turkish Swordfish Kebabs. You have to first soak the bay leaves (especially if you buy then dried). You then alternate the fish, bay leaves and lemon wedges onto the skewers. Drizzle with olive oil, season and grill on high heat, turning until done.

Sage- You most likely think of Thanksgiving when you think of sage, however I like it in a stew of sliced potatoes, onion, tomatoes, wine, vegetable (or chicken) broth and fresh peas topped with Parmesan. I suspect you could add some chicken to make this a meal.

Basil-Well we all know a lot about this herb. It is the all time best with tomato dishes, whether sliced, sauced or otherwise. I like to make a pesto with Basil, toasted walnuts, really good parmesan not the flavorless stuff and olive oil. I sauté scallops then add the pesto a squeeze of lemon and serve over angel hair. Yum!

Well that is enough to take in for now. I will continue with other herbs and recipes in subsequent posts.
I would love some feedback on this blog, your cooking ideas and things you would like me to write about.