Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cooking with Herbs

It's spring, and that means it's time to tend to my herb garden.  I adore cooking with herbs, and love to add fresh cilantro, mint, rosemary and other fresh herbs to my dishes.  There's nothing like fresh herbs to add flavor, depth and vibrancy to any recipe.  And there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own ingredients and picking fresh leaves from your own garden to add to your favorite dishes.  This year I'm growing cilantro, mint, rosemary, basil, parsley, dill, chives, thyme and oregano.

We often think of herbs as limited to savory dishes, but in fact, they can also turn beverages and desserts from ordinary to sublime!  Fresh-from-the-garden sprigs of mint add a lovely, fresh touch to a summer cocktail or dessert, but many other herbs also add a tantalizingly bright note to your favorite recipes.  These flavorful little plants have a way of turning common desserts into intriguing taste sensations.

We're all familiar with herbal teas, mint juleps and the ubiquitous mojito.  But what about a basil-infused lemonade with vodka, a chamomile and lemon verbena spritzer, or some delicate hibiscus champagne?  Herbs are making an appearance in many cocktail recipes these days.

And in desserts, herbs have found new life.  Rosemary-and-wine poached pears is a sophisticated spin on a classic, and basil-infused cream can be an interesting foil to fresh strawberries.

Some herbs that do particularly well in desserts are:  angelica, basil, bergamot, caraway, cilantro (or coriander), elderflower (sambucus, elder or elderberry), fennel, kaffir lime leaves, lavender, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.

Some winning combinations that will work well in your dessert recipes include:
  • Basil pairs well with peaches, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or melon. 
    Try it in your next fruit salad, compote or macerated fruit.
  • Rosemary pairs well with chocolate, oranges and pears.
  • Try whipping cream with mottled mint or basil for a fresh and flavorful dessert topping.
  • Sage can be added to your pastry dough for added depth of flavor, and pairs very well with apples.
  • Lemon and chamomile pairs well together and would make a lovely cream pie or ice cream.
  • Lavender and vanilla cookies and cupcakes make a lovely accompaniment to your next cup of afternoon tea.
  • Lemon and thyme add a lovely note to pudding, pound cake or delicate butter cookies.
  • Grapefruit and raspberries pair well with tarragon.
And in addition to all the flavor they add to enhance your favorite recipes, more and more research is showing that herbs also pack an impressive antioxidant punch, as well as other beneficial properties, that promote good health.

To get you started with using more of these marvelous flavor boosters in your dishes, my sister, Ana, has just come out with a new cookbook starring these powerhouse plants called "Everyday Alchemy: Transformative Cooking with Herbs."  I urge you to check it out for some new and delicious ways to add these beneficial herbs into your life, and enjoy every delicious minute of it!  I can personally attest to their yumminess!  My favorites are the pancakes ... and the muffins ... and the risotto ... and the frittata ... and the lavender cookies ... and ...

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