Food Fairy: Fresh herbs close at hand
For my birthday, a kind friend gave me a tiny vase filled with a wee bunch of homegrown flowers, which I put on the cookbook counter in my kitchen because the usual flower spot was already overflowing with birthday flowers.
We both quite liked flowers in the kitchen, so when the first little bunch faded we filled the vase with more flowers. When those faded we were out of flowers, so I cut a few herbs and popped them in.
Revelation: A vase full of cut, ready to use herbs on the counter meant that I cooked everything with fresh herbs.
I’ve always loved fresh herbs in my cooking, but I really hate the waste of the rest of the bunch in the refrigerator. Keeping them fresh in a jar of water in the fridge, or a fancy “herb keeper” only means spilled water and slimy stems. Using them up to make herb butter is all good and well until your freezer is full of herb butter. Mostly fresh herbs were reserved at my house for holiday cooking, when I could at least make an inroad on using up a poultry bunch (although always too much rosemary and not enough thyme, why is that?)
A little pot of fresh herbs is a dollar or so more than a cut bunch of the same herbs. They will live happily on a windowsill, the back patio or even next to your front door with a bit of sunlight and water, and you can snip off what you need for dinner. Or snip two or three sprigs of each to fill a vase (tiny jar, shot glass, etc.) to put on the counter where you’ll remember to use them. I have sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary going right now.
Change the water in the vase every day, and wash the herbs right before you use them.
— Along the way, I ended up writing quite a lot of material, which I’m starting to collect on a website, thenewhomeec.com. Stop by and see what you can find! As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pineapple Sage Syrup
This is excellent as a cocktail element, but I mostly put a spoonful in a glass of fizzy water as a delicious mocktail (with optional Habanero).
1 cup pineapple juice
¾ cup sugar
2 T. fresh sage, bruised
(½ a small habanero pepper, seeded and sliced)
Putting it together:
Mix sugar and juice and stir to dissolve. Add sage and habanero if using. Bring just to the boil, then remove from heat. Let cool before straining. Store, refrigerated, up to a week.
Salmon Salad with Tender Herbs
“Tender” herbs are ones that you might like to bite into as is. Rosemary is not a good choice; tarragon is. Serves two as a main dish.
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon oil
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon honey or rice syrup
6-8 ounce salmon fillet
2 cups bean sprouts
6 cups shredded lettuce
½ cup mixed tender herbs
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon nut butter
Putting it together:
Mix vinegar, tamari and rice syrup together. In a nonstick pan, sauté ginger and garlic in oil until fragrant. Add green onions and cook another minute. Add vinegar mixture and bring to boil. Add salmon, skin side down.
Cover and turn heat to low. Cook 8-12 minutes, until salmon is done to your taste. Flip salmon to coat with pan juices. Remove fish from pan and let cool. Add bean sprouts to sauce, cover and cook 2 minutes. Remove cover and let cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Mix lime juice and nut butter. Wash lettuce and mix with herbs. Toss with nut butter mixture, then make two nice thick beds on serving plates. When salmon and sprouts have cooled a bit, remove skin from salmon and check for any bones. Top greens with sprouts, and then with salmon.
Roasted Veg with Too Many Herbs
Substitute veg at will here, but cut everything so it will cook in the same amount of time. Serves four.
1 pound garnet yams
1 pound shallots
1 pound Nantes carrots
¾ pound parsnips
1 bunch golden beets
3 cloves garlic sliced thin
4-5 sprigs each of thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary
Putting it together:
Wash and peel vegetables. Cut veg in cubes. Toss with oil, salt and garlic. Strip herbs from stems and toss with veg, discarding stems. Spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake about 90 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring twice, until tender and caramelized.
Herbed Chicken Hot Dish
This is on heavy rotation at our house right now, since it can be made ahead. Freshly grated cheese makes all the difference here. Feel free to sub vegetables, use leftover cooked meat, or make it vegetarian. The cauliflower topping is a great nutritional swap for mashed potatoes, and may convert some cauliflower haters! Serves four.
4 cups cauliflower florets (about half a head)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups milk, divided
4-5 sprigs each of thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary, divided
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 pound uncooked chicken breast, thin sliced
4 Nantes carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon oil
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
2 shallots, sliced
½ cup sliced celery
2 tablespoons flour (AP or gluten-free)
¼ cup finely grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
Putting it together:
Steam the cauliflower until very tender. Add 1 tablespoon butter, ½ teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons milk. Puree with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Put three sprigs each of thyme, oregano, sage and rosemary in a large skillet with a lid. Add garlic, broth and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and slip chicken into broth. Cover and cook until just barely done, 5-8 minutes depending on chicken. Remove chicken from broth and add carrots. Cook until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove carrots from broth. Reserve broth for another use — it’s fantastic in a noodle bowl or soup.
Heat oil in a large skillet and add mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until nicely browned. Add shallots and celery and cook 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.
Reduce heat to low. Add remaining butter to a pan and allow to melt. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Add milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Cook until barely thickened, 2-3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons cheese. Add remaining herbs, stripped from stem, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cut cooled chicken into bite-sized pieces. Combine chicken and remaining ingredients except for the cauliflower and cheese. Mix well and pour into an 8-by-8 oven dish. Top with cauliflower puree and sprinkle remaining cheese over. (You may make up to this point and refrigerate, covered, up to three days. Add 20 minutes to cooking time.) Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until bubbling and lightly browned on top.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
Published online on October 15, 2019 | Printed in the October 16, 2019 edition on page B3