Herb Hints for Summer 2013: Part 1
As summer literally begins to heat up later this month in North America, many plants will be bursting with bountiful harvests. I’m happy to share with you some hints and fun information for cultivating specifically herb plants that I’ve gathered through personal experience and various research sources to assist you whether you have an in-ground garden, a raised-bed planter or simply a pot or two on your kitchen windowsill. In this particular post I will focus on three herbs that I’ve kept over the years most consistently for culinary uses.
Basil: Who isn’t acquainted with the burst of flavor and scent that basil affords? My first memory of this herb was as a little girl in my great-grandfather’s garden south of Athens, Greece when he cut some for me to smell and take to the kitchen for our meal. The large-leafed varieties produce great foliage for pasta sauces and fresh salads. Basil is also a great companion plant for tomatoes. Lemon basil and sweet basil are my personal favorites for usage in home cooking and herbal bouquets as gifts for loved ones. “The name “basil” is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means “royal,” reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred.” http://www.whfoods.com
Mint: O’Brien’s in New Orleans serves a strong concoction called the Mint Julep, a mix of bourbon whiskey and crushed mint in a sugary punch that impressed my palate and sense of fun. Later I would have a Mohito in a South Florida restaurant that inspired me to keep this herb in my garden rotation permanently. It turns out I can also use mint to make fresh hot tea that works as a non-alcoholic calming force on its own. A common favorite for garnish in iced teas, lemonade or cocktails—this plant (and its many varieties) is very aggressive and spreads quickly in its root system. This can be great if you are into propagation (just stick a cutting in water and watch roots grow over time) but if not then it is advisable to keep it in a container. As a side note, mint is also a natural repellant for flies and ants.
Parsley: This herb is readily available for purchase at grocery stores in the produce department and I recommend you just buy the plant since growing from parsley from seed is no easy feat–I just achieved success at starting parsley from seed after over 5 years of trying. “Cut up flat-leaf parsley to use in soups and stews. Add parsley to warm foods just before serving so the herb maintains its flavor and bright green color.” (from the premier issue of Herb Gardening through http://www.BHG.com ) Personally I love having fresh parsley around for fresh visual garnish on dishes presented to your family and friends at the dinner table. It’s been known for centuries as a breath freshener after dinner when you nibble on it and in old folklore a robust parsley plant at a residence represented a strong woman of the house inside.
It turns out that you can store these herbs either by drying them (I use a dehydrator but there are methods for drying them appropriately if you research) or freezing them. I haven’t tried it but “Herb Gardening” magazine suggests: “Grind and freeze-wash and pat dry large-leafed herbs such as basil and parsley. In a food processor, combine each herb with oil and grind into a paste. Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays to use later in soups, stews and sauces.”
Recipe to Boot: From June 2013 Good Housekeeping magazine, http://www.goodhousekeeping.com
30 minutes or less-Weeknight Easy
Minted Chicken with Asparagus
Note: Makes 4 main dish servings
• 1 lime
• 1 ½ cup packed fresh mint leaves
• 1 clove garlic
• 2 tsp brown sugar
• ½ ground coriander
• 3 tbsp canola oil (I believe any oil you choose is fine)
• 1 ¼ lbs thin chicken cutlets
• 1 bunch thin asparagus trimmed
• 8 cups mixed baby greens
1. Prepare outdoor grill for covered direct grilling on medium.
2. From lime, grate ½ tsp peel and squeeze 2 tbsp juice.
3. In food processor, pulse mint, grated lime peel, garlic, sugar, coriander and 2 tsp oil until smooth, occasionally scraping down side of bowl then transfer to small bowl.
4. Rub chicken with 2 tbsp mint mixture; sprinkle with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper. Grill, covered, 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through, turning over once.
5. Meanwhile, toss asparagus with 1 tsp oil; sprinkle with 1/8 tsp salt. Grill, covered, 5-6 min, turning occasionally. Grill bread 1-2 minutes per side.
6. To bowl with reserved mint mixture, add lime juice, remaining 2 tbsp oil and ¼ tsp salt, whisking to combine. Thinly slice chicken. Divide greens among 4 serving plates; top with chicken and asparagus. Drizzle with mint dressing and serve with grilled bread.
Stay tuned for Herb Hints for Summer 2013: Part 2,
Additional Sources: “The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs- 26 Herbs Everyone Should Grow and Enjoy” by Charles W.G. Smith, Storey Publishing