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Herbs work magic

Herbs work magic

Herbs add so much to almost any dish.

Whether you’re adding basil for that Italian flavor or rosemary to turn fried potatoes into a rich sidebar, it’s amazing how something so small and simple can contribute so much.

 

Roger Koch was kind enough to talk about his herb use in a comments added to a  post from last week. And here is more information to help you  dramatically boost the flavor in yur recipes.

Growing your own herbs is easy if you have space on a window sill. Or you can find many choices of fresh herbs in produce aisles. You also can find wonderful indiv idual dried herbs and blends in the spice aisle.

If you have a spice cabinet full of spices and dried herbs, get a jump on spring with spring cleaning that area and tossing outdated ones. Then watch for specials on spices and herbs to replenish your supply for the best flavor.

The Associated Press offers a looka t some herbs and their uses as well as an idea for incorporating them into your meals:

 Get the most out of herbs

By MARIA NOEL GROVES

Associated Press

 Basil (best fresh) 

“You taste fresh basil in your nose more than you do on your palate,” says Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of “From the Cook’s Garden.”

That’s why basil is best added at the end of a recipe, such as pasta sauce, or used as garnish.

Chopped fresh basil is excellent sprinkled on sandwiches, salad, pizza, eggs, steak or veal. Or mix it into softened butter for spreading on biscuits.

In a food processor, blend leftover fresh basil with olive oil until it forms a paste. Keep in the freezer for instant fresh basil flavor for finishing soups or rice dishes.

Reserve dried basil for adding at the beginning of soup and stew recipes and in tomato sauce.

 Ginger (usually best fresh) 

Fresh ginger has a sweeter, lemony flavor than dried versions, which can be hot and spicy.

Whenever possible, opt for fresh grated ginger in stir fries, fish marinades and roasted vegetables.

For baked goods, just about any form of ginger works — grated fresh, dried or candied.

 Oregano (best dry) 

Oregano’s flavor intensifies when it is dried.

Simmer dried leaves (crush them between your fingers as you add them) in tomato-based sauce or other Italian, Greek and Mexican dishes.

Depending on variety, fresh oregano can range from pungent to mild.

 Parsley (best fresh) 

Use fresh parsley as you would basil.

Add it to tuna, salads, tabbouleh, pesto, bruschetta, gravy or use with meat or potatoes.

“We make tiny parsley salads. You julienne them a little bit with olive oil and lemon juice and put a plop on top of a steak,” says Frank Terranova, a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

Flat leaf parsley packs more flavor than curly varieties. Like basil, fresh parsley can be pureed and frozen for use later.

 Rosemary (fresh or dry) 

Dried rosemary can be hard and brittle, so use it only in recipes with plenty of liquid and long cooking times to give it ample opportunity to rehydrate.

Otherwise, stick with fresh.

Both forms of the herb can be used in roast chicken (tuck stems under the skin before baking) or other fowl, Terranova says.

Fresh works well in gravy, potatoes, Greek cuisine including lamb, meat marinades and biscuits.

 Sage (fresh or dry) 

Sage has a pungent flavor best used sparingly with other herbs to add complex flavor. Fresh leaves will be slightly milder than dried.

Sage blends particularly well in tomato-based dishes and sauces, as well as poultry, stuffing, gravy, veal, fish, winter squash, hearty soups and stews, biscuits and rolls.

Milder varieties, such as pineapple sage, can be added to meat marinades or snipped into salad.

 Tarragon (best fresh) 

“The licorice flavor really works well with seafood,” Terranova says.

Use fresh leaves as an accent for fish, poultry, ham glaze, snipped into salad or added to dressing. Large amounts can be overwhelming.

 Thyme (fresh or dry) 

Thyme provides an earthy grounding flavor to sweet vegetables such as bell peppers and squash, says Deborah Madison, author of the classic “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”

Also add thyme to poultry, stuffing, gravy, pizza, eggs, ham glaze, lamb and veal. Experiment with different varieties, including lemon thyme.

 Turmeric (best dry) 

This bright yellow spice is what makes commercial mustard yellow, but most people know it best from Indian curries.

Add it to soups for a mild curry flavor or to rice as a stand-in for saffron.

Release dried turmeric’s fragrance by sautéing it in a little oil first.

The fresh root — which looks like an yellow-orange version of ginger root — can be found in some gourmet and natural-food stores. Keep fresh turmeric refrigerated, then finely grate only the amount needed.

Sauté it in oil a bit before adding it to sauces and soups.

 Recipe for Rice Pilaf with Herbs 

Associated Press 

This herbaceous dish can be adapted to whatever fresh green herbs you have handy.

Use it alone as a meal or omit the chicken and serve alongside poultry or fish.

The recipe is adapted from Margaret Ellmore’s version in “The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs” (Louisiana State University Press, 2007).

  RICE PILAF WITH HERBS 

Start to finish: 45 minutes 

1/4 pound butter 

4 ounces uncooked angel hair pasta, broken into small pieces 

26-ounce container vegetable or chicken broth 

1 cup basmati rice 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, sage, parsley or other savory herbs 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

1 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional) 

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the pasta and sauté until pasta just begins to brown.

Carefully stir in the vegetable or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Add the rice, herbs, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid, about 30 minutes.

If desired, stir in shredded cooked chicken, heat through and serve with a parsley garnish.

Makes 4 servings.

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