Herbs

Springtime Herb Sauces

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Spring is the season for green and that includes herbs. In Spring the "leafy herbs" such as basil, cilantro, chives, and parsley are bursting forth. "Woody herbs" such as thyme or sage are best saved for longer cooking winter dishes. 

Herb sauces are a fantastic way to get loads of rich, raw nutrients into a meal. I sneak probiotics in by using miso or brine from fermented vegetables or sauerkraut; just a tablespoon or two will do. Place a bowl of any of these sauces on the table with dinner. They add freshness and flavor to baked potatoes, as a dip for veggies, as a sandwich spread, over pasta, or as a marinade or sauce to any protein. 

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Tips:

  • Try not to by herbs at chain markets where you get a few sprigs in a plastic shell for a high price. I buy herbs at the farmer's market or neighborhood Meditteranean markets. These cultures use herbs as a vegetable, not a garnish so herbs in these stores are ussually inexpensive and fresh. 
  • Most herbs can be rinsed and spun dry in a salad spinner and wrapped in paper towel to wick away extra moisture. Keep in the vegetable bin. Don't rinse basil until ready to use. It will bruise and brown.
  • Use the stems. Cilantro pesto or delicious and use can use stem and all. Tougher stems like large basil stem should not be used but the stem close to the leaf is tender. In other words don't be to picky when picking the leaves from the stem.
  • Blend herbs; herbs grown in the same season go together well in sauces so use up those half bunches by making a sauce.
  • These sauces freeze well. Make a batch, use some for dinner, freeze the rest in small containers. That way you can pull out just enough for dinner.

Recipes:

Salsa Verde ~ Delicious as a dip or sauce with with prawns, chicken, grilled meats and cooked vegetables.

  • 1/4 cup pickled capers, rinsed or salted capers, soaked for ½ hour and rinsed
  • 4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained (leave out if serving with prawns)
  • 3 garlic cloves, split lengthwise and green sprout removed
  • 1 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup each coarsely chopped arugula, parsley, basil & cilantro
  • 1/4 cup each coarsely chopped tarragon or 1 tsp. Dried and coarsely chopped chives

In a mortar or on a cutting board, smash the garlic and add the capers and anchovies. Mash until the mixture forms a paste forms. Transfer to a medium bowl and whisk in half of the olive oil. Stir in the herbs and and the remaining olive oil to taste depending on the thickness you’d like.

Green Herb Pesto ~ Use as you would traditional pesto over pasta or as a sauce.

  • 2 cloves garlic, split lengthwise and green sprout removed
  • 2 cups packed fresh leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, arugula, parsley, or a mixture (no mint)
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup nuts: pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or pistachios (toasted if you like)
  • 1 Tbls. fresh lemon juice or 1 pinch (1/8 tsp.) Vitamin C powder
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

With a food processor or blender running, drop the garlic in and allow to mince. Add the herbs, nuts, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Plus just enough to blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Chermoula, a Moroccan sauce that is delicious as a marinade for chicken or spooned over fresh grilled fish. Keep it slightly chuncky, not pureed.

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • ½ bunch parsley, tops only
  • 3 garlic cloves, split lengthwise and green sprout removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds*
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika or ½ tsp hot paprika
  • 1/4 preserved lemon, pulp discarded, rinsed, and rind coarsely chopped
  • Sea salt
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • About ½ cup good quality olive oil

In a small skillet, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over low heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and grind the seend with a pinch of salt until fairly well ground. In a food processor or blender, mince the garlic and then add the herbs, spices, preserved lemon, and  1 Tbls. lemon juice. While the machine is on, slowly pour in olive oil until desired consistency is reached. I like this sauce to be slightly course. Adjust seasoning.

Carrot-Top Pesto ~ The carrot family Umbelliferae consist of anise, dill, celery, parsley, cilantro and coriander, to name a few. Families pair well together when prepared in a dish. Use “sister” herbs to add more depth to this pesto. Use as you would pesto or drizzle over steamed carrots (hot or cold) or, roasted sweet vegetables.

  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, split lengthwise and green sprout removed
  • 2 cups carrot leaves, no stems
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts or almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh “sister” herbs above such as cilantro, dill, or parsley or use basil
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil

Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor or blender until a coarse paste forms. Add the carrot tops, herbs, Parmesan and process into a coarse purée. Add olive oil in a steady stream while machine is running until combined; season with salt and pepper.

Fermented Green Sauce ~ Here’s another green sauce with a probiotic boost, miso. To keep the probiotics alive, don’t heat it but rather toss the sauce with cooked foods. It’s a yummy dip, sandwich spread or drizzled over cooked vegetables.

  • 1 small bunch each cilantro, parsley and chives
  • A ½ to 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (optional; it adds a distinctive spice)
  • Juice of one or 2 fresh lemons, limes, or both or 1 Tbls. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbls. white miso
  • 2 Tbls. tahini
  • ¼ cup or more good quality olive oil
  • 1 Tbls. honey (optional)

Pulse or blend everything in a blender or food processor. Season to taste. Add more olive oil (or a bit of water) for a thinner consistency.

 

 

Aroma Therapy, Coaxing the love out of vegetables & Minestrone

    

 

 

Aroma Therapy

You know that feeling when something in the kitchen smells so good and you just breath it in and you begin to drool? That’s what I call aroma therapy! 

Pulling the natural aroma and flavor out of vegetables takes a bit of coaxing and love. You want to create depth by layering flavors. And as usual, nature tells us how to do it. Have a look at my “vegetable tree”. Seeing vegetables in this way gives a visual of what order vegetables prefer to be added to a dish to bring out their best. 

At the base of the tree are “root vegetables” or vegetables that grow underground and include carrots, onions, parsley, leeks, garlic, celery root (celeriac) and more. They are sweet in nature, caramelize well and are known as “aromatic vegetables” or “aromatics”. Most, if not all, traditional cuisines have a combination of aromatic vegetables that begin every soup, stew or sauce. The French use a “mirepoix”, a mixture of onion, carrot and celery. In Germany a “suppengrün” of celeriac, carrot and leek is used.   Cajun cuisine has the “Holy Trinity” a mixture of onion, celery and green bell pepper. Asian cuisines add turmeric root, ginger and lemongrass. Italian soffritto is often made with bits of leftover prosciutto or pancetta.

Here’s how I do the coaxing~

Following your recipe, start with the aromatics and sauté them gently to allow moisture to evaporate and condense the flavor. Add bay leaves, *hearty herbs and peppercorns here. You can put a lid on the pan for the first 4 or 5 minutes to sweat the vegetables. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender.

Next add low-to-the-ground vegetables like celery, hearty cabbage, cauliflower and so on. At this point, I don’t add a lid as it can discolor some vegetables. Cook until the color is vibrant but the vegetables are still crisp tender. Season as you go to layer and bring out flavors using salt and spices. Add broth, sauces, or splash of white wine.

Now, add leafy vegetables: kale, chard, Napa cabbage and bitter greens like radicchio. Once the vegetables are cooked perfectly and the flavoring is perfect too, turn off the heat and add minced *tender herbs for a splash of brightness in the dish.

Voila, you’ve got a lovely meal that is full of depth, flavor and color. Bon Appétit!

  • *Hearty herbs are herbs that need to be cooked: sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano
  • *Tender herbs are herbs that are tasty raw: cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, chives

Minestrone Soup

Using the methods above, apply the techniques to Italian Minestrone, a simple a soup with equal proportions of vegetables and broth. In Italy, Minestrone changes from region to region and season to season. This recipe is a guide. Use what you have and what you like.

Spring & Summer:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta scraps, minced
  • 4 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed or chopped
  • 3 medium leeks (white and light green part), sliced thinly
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced or diced
  • 1 cup celery root or celery, diced or sliced
  • 4 medium new potatoes, large dice
  • 1/2 pound green beans in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 piece of parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 - 15 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes and juice, crushed by hand
  • Chicken broth or water
  • 3 cups savoy cabbage or swiss chard, chiffonade (cut like thin ribbons) 
  • 2 small zucchini, large dice
  • 2 cups pre-cooked white beans
  • 1/2 cup dry pasta (use odds and ends of pasta from your pantry)
  • Good olive oil
  • Minced parsley
  • Crostini & grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté pancetta and garlic until fragrant. Stir in the carrots and celery root and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the leeks and sweat the aromatic vegetables with the lid on until they are translucent. Season lightly.   

Add potatoes, green beans, parmesan rind and tomatoes with their juice. Add chicken stock or water just to cover the vegetables. Simmer 30 minutes or until veggies are tender. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface.

Add the cabbage, zucchini, beans and pasta if using. Simmer for 15 minutes or to taste. Turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Top with bread, cheese and minced parsley.

In Winter replace summer vegetables with:

  • 1 lb. winter squash like butternut
  • 2-3 parsnips
  • Use kale instead of swiss chard or cabbage

For a thicker soup, remove two cups of soup with veggies and purée in a blender. Add the mixture back into soup.

Bon Appétit!

Root Vegetable Slaw

Root Vegetable Slaw  Serves 6

  • 3 medium beets, I like golden beets
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1/2 celery root
  • 1 medium kohlrabi
  • sea salt
  • 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp sherry vinegar 
  • 2 tsp superfine sugar or honey
  • 3/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup mint leaves, shredded
  • 2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp grated lemon zest
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel all the vegetables and slice them thinly, about 1/16 inch thick. Stack a few slices at a time on top of one another and cut them into matchstick like strips. Alternatively, use a grater or a food processor with a grater attachment. Place the vegetables in a large bowl and season liberally with salt. Set aside for 20-30 minutes. 

Make the dressing by placing the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir until the sugar and the salt have dissolved. Remove from the heat. 

Drain the vegetable strips and rinse will with cold water. Place in a clean tea towel or paper towel and pat dry. Return to a dry bowl. Pour the hot dressing over the vegetables, mix well, and chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes. 

When ready to serve, add the herbs, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the salad. Toss well, taste, and add more salt if needed. 

Adapted from Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi