By Judith H. Dern
Healthnotes Newswire (May 14, 2009)—Fresh herbs are creating a lush garden in today’s grocery stores, allowing cooks to enhance dishes and dazzle the senses with subtle aromas and tastes. “Fresh herbs offer an astounding palette of vibrant and glorious tastes,” says Jerry Traunfeld. As executive chef of The Herbfarm Restaurant just east of Seattle, Washington, and a cookbook author, he’s received national praise for his innovative dishes showcasing herbs.
Keep them fresh and tasty
To get the most out of your herbs, try these storage tips:
• Use fresh herbs as soon as possible to experience the fullest flavor.
• If you want to wash your herbs before storing, let them drip dry first.
• To store, place herbs (unwashed, with excess moisture patted dry, or briefly air dried) in resealable plastic bags or plasticware. Store in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator.
Unleash the flavor
Keep these points in mind as you prepare your herbalicious dishes:
• Chop herbs coarsely or tear their leaves so it’s still possible to distinguish their unique characteristics. A couple exceptions: blend or grind basil to make pesto and leave bay leaves whole in soups and stews.
• Discard woody stems of herbs such as thyme and rosemary, but chop stems of parsley, dill, chervil, and cilantro and use them for cooking, too.
• Substitute fresh herbs for dried in recipes, but take their flavor differences into account: drying can concentrate an herb’s flavors so they can actually be stronger. For most recipes that call for dried herbs, use twice to three times the amount of fresh.
• Add fresh herbs to a dish only in the final few minutes of cooking so they don’t overcook and lose flavor.
Experiment with herbal alchemy
Discover the amazing versatility of fresh herbs and find the combinations that please you most:
• Use the most aromatic herbs—thyme, rosemary, winter savory, bay, and sage—in small amounts to test their effect on a dish’s flavor.
• Work up to mixing herbs; it’s best to start by cooking with one at a time. Avoid combining two strong herbs, such as rosemary and sage, in the same dish, as the flavors will compete with each other and confuse the palate.
• When pairing a flavorful herb with a delicate one, use only a small amount of the stronger one so both flavors will come through.
Try this dish: Fresh baby spinach with wild mushrooms
This lovely, simple salad makes an elegant first course or a light lunch.
• 1 lb mixed wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, portobello, oyster, or chanterelle
• 2 Tbs olive oil
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 1/2 cup mushroom-soaking liquid
• 2 tsp fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, basil, or marjoram
• 3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 6 cups baby spinach, rinsed
• Grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago
• Enoki mushrooms (optional)
Rinse mushrooms. Remove stems and save for stock. Chop or slice mushrooms, depending upon size. Remove gills from portobellos.
Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté garlic carefully for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms (except enoki) and cook, stirring until they begin to release their juices. Add soaking liquid and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to slightly reduce liquids. Add herbs, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
Place spinach in a large salad bowl. Top with mushrooms and their sauce. Toss well to slightly wilt spinach. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve garnished with grated cheese and enoki mushrooms.
• Calories 143
• Calories from Fat 79 (60%)
• Total Fat 9g (14%)
• Saturated Fat 2g (10%)
• Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
• Monounsaturated Fat 6g
• Cholesterol 6mg (2%)
• Sodium 176mg (7%)
• Potassium 648mg (19%)
• Total Carbohydrate 8g
• Dietary Fiber 2g (10%)
• Sugars 2g
• Protein 8g (15%)
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Nutrition facts are calculated by a food expert using nutritional values provided by the USDA for common products used as recipe ingredients. Actual nutritional values may differ depending on the amounts or products used and can be affected by cooking methods.
Ms. Dern is a veteran of national consumer public relations agency programs for both commodity board food products and branded manufactured foods. She is coauthor of The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Fields, Farms and Oceans (2004, New Society Publishers). Her articles have appeared in publications such as Relish, Cooking Light, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Northwest Palate, and Woman’s Day Special Interest Christmas Publications. She has also served as copywriter and ghostwriter on several cookbooks and has written on food for regional and national organizations. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), she was awarded the Harry A. Bell Grant for Food Writers in 2003.
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