We cooks tend to get into ruts and don’t even realize brilliant new culinary tricks hiding under our noses. Over the years, I’ve occasionally learned new ways to use some of my favorite herbs with delicious results.
Take, for example, rosemary: This fragrant herb grows in most North American planting zones. In some cases, the plant resembles a bush more than a mere splotch of green in the garden. Some of the best ways to deal with an overabundance of rosemary is to dry it and store for use in the kitchen. However, one of the biggest flavor punches is obtained by burning up the excess sprigs.
Rosemary bush gone wild
Start by cutting a few branches and then let them dry for a couple of weeks, or speed up the process by laying the sprigs out in the sun. Next time you fire up the barbecue, either gas or charcoal, get ready to produce a fragrant cloud of rosemary smoke. I throw a couple of 12-14 inch sprigs of dried rosemary on the coals about ten minutes before chicken, lamb, pork, salmon, or beef are finished cooking.
The flavor reminds of sunny days on Santorini Island eating some of the best lamb in the world scented with rosemary. Best thing is the rosemary doesn’t even have to be fully dry for this application. Sometimes I’ll even spray the sprigs with water so they don’t burn up too fast.
If you live in planting Zone 7 or higher, you probably have rosemary that threatens to take over your garden every year. Clip the abundant branches and dry them. Once dried, they stay usable a year or more if properly stored in a dark, cool, dry, place.
Rosemary springs dried for grill flavoring
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. Here again, if you live in Zone 7 or higher chances, are you have thyme come back year after year. Every spring for a month or so one variety or another seems to burst into pretty little flowers. These tangy little buds are great for garnishing salads, grilled meats, or sautéed chicken breasts. My favorite way to eat them is tossed with a salad, or used as a salad topper. The flowers add lots of flavor to salads dressed in vinaigrette-type dressings.
Thyme flowers are suitable for salad toppings
Another common herb is cilantro. Known for bolting and being useless just days after becoming harvestable in size and flavor, many gardeners just shake their heads and pull the bolting herb. But wait, let that baby grow into the gorgeous little bush it wants to be and enjoy the flowers on salads. You can also let cilantro go to seed.
Wait until it has developed seeds, then use in one of two ways. I like to take the green seeds and toss them in stir-fry dishes or soups. The other method is waiting until the bush has gone brown and dry.
Cilantro plant gone to seed
Then after a week or so in its brown stage, harvest the seeds. I spread out newspapers on a table indoors and rub the seeds free of the branches. Then I roll the seeds into a brownie pan or sheet pan and collect them for use as coriander. Why buy coriander if you can easily grow your own? Use in any number of Indian dishes like coriander rice, chicken tikka masala, or tandoori spice mix.
You might find even more ways than I have to use excess herbs from your garden. Experimenting with herbs like these beats being in a cooking rut.
• 3/4 cup cooked black beans
• 3/4 cup cooked corn
• 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
• 1/4 cup diced fresh tomato, optional
• 2 Tbsp minced jalapeno, optionals
• 1 Tbsp fresh green coriander seeds
• 1-2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 Tbsp minced chives or green onion
• 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon
• 1/2 avocado, optional
In a bowl, mix all ingredients except avocado and chill for 30-60 minutes, if desired. Gently stir in avocado pieces and serve.
Note: Fresh oregano makes a lovely addition to this salad. Chop abut one tablespoon or so and mix well.
Kurt Jacobson has been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his fourth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening and is volunteering at Wilbur’s Farm in Kingsville, Maryland, to learn real organic gardening. For this and other recipes using garden greens, and more fresh veggies check out his food blog. For tasty travel ideas check out Kurt's travel blog, TasteofTravel2.com. Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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