As the temperature rises and the weather warms, our tastebuds seem to go on automatic pilot. We naturally turn away from hearty fare such as chilis and stews and crave foods that are simpler, lighter and easier to prepare. And while simpler and lighter may conjure up thoughts of a boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breast tossed on the barbeque and grilled to a ghost of its former self, fear not help is on the way.
If you are ready for something new and are not afraid to experiment, cooking with herbs may be your boarding pass to a new culinary journey. Herbs can easily add a new dimension of flavor and depth without adding extra time and energy in the kitchen.
If you’re a fan of gardening and like to bond with the earth at this time of year, you can easily grow herbs in your yard. While many herbs prefer well drained soil with lots of sun, there are also herbs that prefer part sun or shade and are happier with a richer soil. It is not difficult to find an herb to fit your specifications. But if gardening to you means, lots of clay pots on your patio, you have also come to the right place. Herbs can do very well if planted in pots. In fact, by planting in pots we can easily adjust the type of soil, the amount of light and the water requirements.
Herbs can be started by seed, but with the ever increasing variety available at local farms and garden centers, I prefer to buy small plants or seedlings. Besides being able to see a miniature version of the adult plant, I have the extra added benefit of being able to administer the rub and sniff test. This is my non-scientific way of determining if I might be interested in adding this herb to my collection.
The characteristics of an herb will determine how it is used in the recipe. As an example, delicate, friable herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro etc. are usually used raw or added to the dish during the last few minutes of cooking. Hardy, woody herbs such as rosemary, sage, bay leaf, etc. can be added at the beginning of preparation. They can stand up to the heat without incurring a culinary meltdown.
So without further delay, let’s get started. Below are some easy recipes to literally whet your appetite and get you started on your herbal culinary adventure. Buon voyage and have fun!
2 C fresh parsley leaves
2-3 tablespoons capers
1 garlic clove
½ C olive oil
juice of 1 ½ lemons
salt to taste
Place the parsley, capers, garlic and lemon juice in the blender. Add ½ of the olive oil and blend until the parsley looks minced. Add the rest of the oil and blend for 3 seconds. Taste and adjust the amount of salt.
This sauce, as you can see, is not cooked. It is served room temperature over fish or vegetables. In fact, it works nicely over grilled fish or vegetables.
Grilled Rosemary and Garlic Shrimp
1 1/4 lbs raw, cleaned shrimp
1/4 C finely minced garlic (you can do this in a mini-food processor)
½ tsp coarse salt
2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
4 tbsp olive oil ( plus more to brush on the grill)
In a large bowl stir together garlic, rosemary, olive oil and salt. Add shrimp. Marinate this mixture, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. (This is not necessary if using metal skewers.) Prepare grill by brushing with oil. Grill shrimp 3-4 minutes on each side. Brush with extra olive oil, if desired.