Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Your new best friends are green
So you’ve recently discovered your love for cooking. For honest, home made food. You’ve been out shopping, diligently making lists and planning meals, you’ve spent hours peeling and chopping and sauteing and blanching - and all that comes out is more bland than the last try was tasteless?
Well, you need some new cool friends: herbs. Next to looking nice, they are the icing on the cake or the chives sprinkled over a salad, taking a pot roast from being a junk of meat to a composition of complementary aromas - you get the picture.
Maybe you have tried befriending them already, but there are just too many, dozens and hundreds of names and tastes, leaving you confused and vulnerable, and even more aware of being an outsider to their world... Here comes the good news: as always in life, there is a hierarchy, of how versatile they are and how much flavor impact they have on a dish, so you want to start getting to know the most useful ones first and then slowly make the acquaintance of more exotic ones.
Here comes my personal order of preference, including favorite ways to use them:
The omnipotent all around star on the kitchen windowsill of the most fragrant and intense aroma. In my experience tastes best raw, so if used in a sauce it’s advisable to add it in the last minute. Also great in salads, pestos, nearly anything that has tomato in it and as decoration topping any Mediterranean inspired fish, meat, or pasta dish. There is no excuse to not have a little basil plant with fresh supplies of basil at hand (and it looks really pretty).
Maybe one of the most versatile, can be used in all kinds of regional cuisines and foods. Sprinkled on in its raw form it completes salads and soups, or cooked is great sauteed with onions/ garlic/ celery as the base of a sauce. I hold parley in such high esteem that my freezer always sports at least a little container of it.
The inseparable friend of lime and hot peppers adds an exotic flair to fish, meat and vegetable dishes, spices up soups sprinkled on as a garnish and brings that fleeting je ne sais quoi to mixed salads. As with parsley, great to have a stack of it in the freezer - just make sure to label them as they look deceivingly similar once frozen.
Thyme is a more gentle friend, at its best as a background player supporting others on the front stage. Thyme’s true powers are revealed if used in that supporting role, for example a handful of springs infusing olive oil or butter for a hardly recognizable backdrop, or gently plucked setting the stage for the greatness of a sauce.
Voila onion’s little sisters - too fragile to enjoy being cooked, they pretty up soups and salads as raw, as nature created them, accompanying their bigger siblings. On their own, the most delicious use for chives is to buy crusty fresh bread, spread salted butter on it and sprinkle generously with chopped chives. You will love the flavor of my childhood’s summers!
To be continued.... Life is good!