HERBS – A BOUQUET OF IDEAS
My first encounter with fresh herbs was years ago when my Tante Belle showed me her crop of peppermint that grew profusely under the faucet that protruded from her screen porch. During the summer months when it was almost too hot too move, she would make a huge pitcher of homemade lemonade.
As far as I was concerned it was extra special, made so by the addition of fresh mint sprigs that were stirred in right before serving. I also remember her hacking out a big chunk of ice from the big block that was wrapped in a sack and stored in her old-time ice box. Then with her trusty red-handled ice pick, she would splinter the ice into smaller pieces which were then wrapped in a clean kitchen towel. That’s when I would step in, and with a hammer pound the ice into finely crushed crystals which was added to the lemonade. Armed with a tray loaded with the lemonade and big tall glasses, we would head out to a great old swing hanging from a massive oak tree in her back yard to sit until the cool of the evening set in. I’ll never forget the scent and taste of that mint in the lemonade.
Another herb I grew accustomed to was parsley.
Tante Bell’s sister Tante May was fond of fresh parsley and always had a plot of it near the door to her kitchen. Nary a pot of gumbo or soup, or a plate of food, went unadorned by a few sprigs of the bright green herb. She often put a few leaves in her mouth while she cooked, saying it rejuvenated her taste buds.
Lemon verbena was a favorite of Aunt Grace, who had several shrubs growing near her old cistern. Most of her crop was hung to dry in her potting shed, then was crushed and put into small muslin bags to stash in her linen closet. However, I do remember her stuffing a handful or two into the cavity of a roasting hen. Ah, the fragrance was delightful.
Through the years I have come to love many fresh herbs and the foods they enhance. During the summer I enjoy slivers of fresh basil leaves sprinkled on slices of Creole tomatoes. Practically all year round, I love to add several sprigs of rosemary to a pot of pork or veal. Cilantro (also known as coriander or Chinese parsley) goes well with tomatoes too, and I also like to add some leaves to green salads or to sprinkle some on baked fish.
There’s so many things to do with herbs; remember a chef telling me that herbs can change a dish from a $1.00 dish to a $10.00 dish. These days, many supermarkets carry a fairly good assortment so you have no excuse for not trying some out. And many herbs can be easily grown in pots on a sunny window sill. Right now, during the warmer months, is an ideal time to do some experimenting. Team them with fresh garden vegetables, or use them when grilling meats and fowl. Toss fresh thyme leaves in olive oil and pour over steaks, pork chops or sausage before grilling. Come on, there are really no hard and fast rules about what goes with what. That’s the fun of it.
This tangy and refreshing Middle Eastern cracked wheat salad makes a light summer meal or served with grilled chicken or kabobs.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
- 1 1/4 bulgur
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup chopped green onions
- 2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley leaves, tightly packed
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Romaine leaves, cleaned and patted dry
Rinse the bulgur and place in a bowl covered by one inch of water. Allow to soak for one hour.
In a hot, ungreased skillet, carefully toast the coriander and allspice. Then remove and cool. Grind with a pestle and mortar or in a small food processor. Set aside.
Sprinkle the tomatoes and cucumbers with salt and allow to drain in a colander. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
When the bulgur has absorbed the water, drain in a colander, then squeeze out any remaining moisture with your hands to prevent sogginess. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the garlic, onions, parsley, mint, crush pepper, and the coriander and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and toss to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.
Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange the tabbouleh on the Romaine leaves to serve.
This herb-flavored butter is great to spread on corn-on-the-cob, or tossed with fresh green beans that have been blanched in boiling water for several minutes, or tossed with pasta.
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon white wine
- 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Combine all of the ingredients and stir to mix well. Can be refrigerated or served at room temperature.
If you’re successful with growing mint, it can sometimes get out of hand, but there are many things to do with mint. This mint sauce can be drizzled on lamb chops or grilled chicken breasts, or cooked carrots.
SUMMER MINT SAUCE
Makes 1 cup
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the water and the mint leaves. Remove from the heat and let stand for at least one.
If you wish, you can strain the syrup, but I rather like the mint leaves in the sauce. It makes it more intense. It can be served warm or at room temperature.
Order some of our frozen tails on our website and plan to celebrate that it’s summertime and the living is easy!
This is a sinfully good and easy way to prepare lobster tails. Defrost the lobsters, then split the shell lengthwise (use kitchen shears) and gently remove the meat. (Allow one tail per person.) On low heat, melt enough butter in which to submerge the lobster tail. Here’s where you can get creative – add a little mashed fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, a pinch or two of hot sauce, maybe a pinch or two of fresh dill, salt and freshly ground black pepper. On low heat, allow the lobster tails to poach in the mixture – it shouldn’t take longer than 8 to 10 minutes – depending on the size of the lobster tails. Serve the warm, buttery lobster tails on a bed of linguini tossed with garlic and good olive oil, or simply serve them with toasted French bread and thick slices of tomatoes garnished with fresh basil leaves.