Using Fresh Herbs
How To Cook With Fresh Herbs
Seasoning is the soul of great cooking. The cook who seasons with fresh herbs respects the flavors of foods and insightfully and creatively enhances them. Fennel seed and garlic will uplift fresh salmon, for example, when a heavy cream sauce would only be an oppressive mask.
Learning to use fresh herbs skillfully not only will make your cooking healthier, but will enlighten the sensual pleasure of preparing food.To cook with fresh herbs, you must be involved with the food. If you are making black bean soup and think rosemary might work in it, taste the soup. Then smell the rosemary. Will they go together? You decide.
The Importance of Herbs In Your Diet
Culinary herbs can play an important part in the daily diet in spite of the fact that a relatively small amount of herbs are eaten each day. Herbs contain nutritional substances which are beneficial to health, and when added to other foods they bring out the full flavor and make them more enjoyable.
The specific substances contained in herbs are the volatile oils, mineral salts and bitter principles which consist of glycerols, saponines, tannins and carbohydrates. All of these play their part in the interaction of the herb's effect.
Grilled Bell Peppers With Fresh Basil
You may already have a favorite recipe for roasted or grilled bell peppers, but this version incorporates a couple of interesting ways to use herbs. The first is to toss aromatic sprigs of herbs on hot coals to gently perfume what's being grilled. The other is to add a chiffonade (skinny ribbons) of fresh herbs to lift the flavor of the finished dish.
16 sturdy red bell peppers, cored and seeded
2 handfuls of fresh thyme springs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup fresh sweet basil
Prepare the grill. If you're using coals, they should be hot and completely white.Remove the grill rack from the grill and arrange the peppers on it. Toss the thyme onto the hot coals and immediately set the grill rack into place, about 4 inches from the heat source. Let the peppers become completely charred, with black skins, turning them every 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the charred peppers to a large mixing bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Set aside until almost cool, at least 30 minutes.Working over the sink, remove and discard the charred pepper skins. Then slice the peppers lengthwise into quarters and place them in a large serving bowl. Pour on the olive oil and basil and toss gently to combine.Serve as an appetizer with crusty bread. Or slice the peppers into thin strips and toss with ziti or other pasta.
Making An Herbed Vinegar
Pack about 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs into a one and a half cup glass jar, then pound them lightly with a spoon to bruise them and release their aromas. Heat about a cupu of vinegar (but do not let it boil), and pour it over the herbs. Let the vinegar cool, then cover and stash it in a cool place for a couple of weeks before using it in vinaigrettes, to deglaze pans, to snap up soups and sauces without having to use salt, and in marinades. Herbed vinegar will keep for about a year.
Flavor Combinations For Herbed Vinegars
Basil, bay leaf, and garlic with cider vinegar: Use in a marinade for fresh tuna before grilling.
Coriander leaf, dried hot chili pepper, and garlic with white wine vinegar: Combine with soy sauce and use as a dipping sauce for egg rolls.
Sage and chive blossoms with red wine vinegar: Toss with just steamed sweet potato chunks.
Mint and lemon peel with cider vinegar: Use in a marinade or sauce for mild white fish, like flounder, or drizzle on ripe tomatoes.
Bay Scented Bread Pudding
Bay leaves added to dessert puddings improves their sweetness without the need for refined sugars.
1 pound stale bread, muffins, or quick bread
1 cup chopped dried figs
1 cups whole milk
2 bay leaves
1 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush a large souffl dish with oil.Crumble the bread into the souffl dish, mixing in the figs as you go.Heat the milk and the bay leaves in a small saucepan until hot and fragrant, but not boiling. Remove the bay leaves out of the milk but keep them handy.
In a medium bowl, combine the milk, the maple syrup, and eggs and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Pour over the bread crumbs, patting down the top to level it out, then place the bay leaves on top. Bake, uncovered, until firm and golden on top, about 20 minutes.
Serve warm for dessert or brunch with maple syrup, yogurt, or sauted bananas.