Last month at Breathe, I revealed the six spices I thought y’all should be using, but probably weren’t. Chances are, you probably still aren’t using them. Isn’t that the way of these types of articles? If I printed and saved every recipe or foodie idea that I bookmarked or flagged online, I’d have my own National Archives of “Wouldn’t That Be Tasty if I Actually Got Around to It?” Recipes. [Luckily for my roommates, I limit myself to four three-ring binders.]
This month, I was feeling green.
Fresh fronds of leafy herbs are starting to appear in small containers in front of every grocery store and seed packets are stocking the shelves at every garden center and discount store. All this herbacious bounty inspires visions of frolicking through the farmers’ market field of greens that starts to spring up around the time of year. (Is that why they call it spring?)
Whether you have the type of thumb that lends itself to planting your own seasonal herb garden, purchase herbs from the produce department in tiny plastic clamshells (not the most cost effective, but efficient), or the only herbs you’ve ever added to your foods are the dried variety mixed into your Montreal Steak Seasoning, there’s alway something new to learn, and a new twist on the traditional to try.
Like an old college friend who promises he’ll be off your couch as soon as he finds an affordable apartment, mint has a reputation of settling into gardens and slowly inflitrating all the free space. Keep it contained in a pot or pruned in your garden, but don’t let it’s takeover tendencies deter you from my absolute favorite warm-weather herb. Jazz up limeade — add rum and you’ve got mojito — or sprinkle on fresh fruit: minted watermelon and pineapple might just change your life. It also makes a delicious glaze for grilled meats when mixed with cumin and honey or soy sauce and ginger.
I probably don’t have to tell you that basil and tomatoes are as inseparable from the season as popsicles and flip-flops. But basil is more than just a base for pesto or a layer in caprese. Skewer basil leaves with sliced avocado and mango for an intriguing appetizer or add to chicken salad, along with pecans, cherries and fresh peaches. Try substituting it for cilantro in salsa recipes.
Warm days mean margaritas and guacamole on the patio, and you can’t have guacamole without cilantro. If you are one of the unlucky members of the population who taste chalk when your tongue encounters this favorite of Mexican and Asian cooking, move along to the next description. Otherwise, try making Thai pesto with peanuts, cilantro, lime and ginger. Make a ceviche with shrimp or white fish, mango and an excessive amount of lemon and lime juice. Or make that guacamole I mentioned earlier, but perhaps add mango and fresh ginger for a tropical twist.
It’s not just for salmon and pickles anymore. To me, dill screams, “Spring!” Add to leafy greens for a pop of bright flavor in a standard chopped salad, or mix into your chicken, egg or eggless salad recipe for a spring sandwich. My father swears that sauteeing zucchini and yellow squash rounds with garlic, grapeseed oil and fresh dill will change the mind of anyone who says they hate summer squash. One of my favorite instant dips involves a can of drained chickpeas, a can of drained artichoke hearts, a handful of dill and a food processor.
Get your kitchen shears ready, y’all! Cutting a few chives over scrambled eggs, along with a spoonful of sour cream stirred in at the end, will inspire a chorus of “What’s your secret?” at Sunday brunch. It’s also integral in the success of deviled eggs at a backyard BBQ and chilled summertime soups.
Often relegated to a garnish, flat-leaf parsley is underrated in its abilities to elevate the flavors of the other herbs in a dish. Try throwing together parsley, mint and basil for a bright Green Goddess Dressing, or blend into your favorite bean-and-grain burger recipe for a vegetarian cook-out.
If you really want to pack in the herbs (or just don’t know what to do with the leftovers), throw them all into a food processor with a can or two of (or about 4 cups of soaked and boiled) white beans and green onions if you’ve got those, too.Voila! You’ve made Instant Herbed Bean Dip. (Well, not so isntant if you soaked and cooked the beans first…but you get the idea.)
What are some of your favorite herbs for spring?
Do you have any unique ways to use them?
And speaking of green…have you entered my OXO Salad Spinner giveaway? Every B(ig) F(riendly) S(alad) can be improved by fresh herbs.