JEFF TIEDEMAN: Healthy cooking with herbsThese amazing plants can make ordinary meals special.
Herbs are busting out all over our garden, and being an avid cook, I couldn’t be happier.
There was a time the only seasonings that I used on food were pepper and too much salt, much to the dismay of my physician.
But now, I wouldn’t think about cooking without herbs — much less fresh ones.
We have quite a potpourri of herbs right outside our door, and I use just about every one of them in the kitchen.
It all starts with chives — the first herb that’s ready way before the official start of summer in mid-June — which I use in some dips and homemade soups. It ends in August and early September with dill — a must in many of my pickle recipes. In between, there is a host of other herbs that I incorporate into my cooking.
Just recently, I used some cilantro in a tasty salsa verde (it also contains tomatillos). Our cilantro — and there is a lot of it — is all volunteer. (Last year, we had some that went to seed.)
Soon, I’ll be making pesto from fresh basil. It’s been a favorite ever since the first time I combined the fragrant herb with pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Besides using it as a spread on crusty bread, I like to add it to a couple of my pasta dishes, particularly one containing shrimp and linguine.
We also have mint (it can be invasive if you let it), which I mix with course ground meat and other seasonings in stuffed grape leaves, as well as parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano, all of which are perennials.
Something new we’ve added this summer is lavender, another fragrant herb that is used in baked goods and desserts. It pairs especially well with chocolate. It’s also contained in a blend called herbes de Provence, which more recently has become popular in cookery. (For most recipes, dried buds are used.)
We decided on lavender after Therese and her sister, Denise, took a trip to England and stayed on the Isle of Wight, where there is a place called Lavender Gardens, known for its high-quality lavender. Although they didn’t go there, Therese fell in love with the smell of lavender, so we decided to plant some.
Here are a few ideas for using fresh herbs:
— Basil: A natural snipped in with tomatoes; other possibilities include peas, zucchini.
— Chives: Dips, potatoes, tomatoes, soups.
— Cilantro: Mexican, Asian and Caribbean cooking; salsas, tomatoes.
— Dill: Carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pickles.
— Mint: Carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, tabouli, tea.
— Oregano: Peppers, tomatoes.
— Parsley: Potato salad, tabouli.
— Rosemary: Chicken, fish, lamb, pork, potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes, marinades.
— Sage: Poultry seasoning, stuffings.
— Tarragon: Chicken, eggs, fish.
— Thyme: Eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoes.
— Winter savory: Dried bean dishes, stews.
Besides helping flavor foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar, herbs may offer additional benefits. Researchers, including some at the Mayo Clinic, are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease.
Good taste and good health. Now there’s a combination that can keep everyone happy — cooks and doctors alike.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.