I must confess a cooking sin. It is something that has plagued me for many years, something that I am only now learning how to address.
I have been using dried herbs when it says fresh in a recipe.
I never understood the error of my ways until I started buying fresh herbs at the farmers market.
It started slowly enough, a year two ago, with basil. Basil makes great pasta dishes and pesto. It’s an economical purchase because you can put it in a vase with water and it continues to grow. I can get weeks worth of basil from a single $1 purchase. I love how it makes my kitchen smell. It’s a great multi-tasker, completely non-threatening and economical.
Then last summer I branched out with mint, but just for tea. Fresh mint (especially chocolate mint) makes amazing tea. No artificial flavors, just the pure simple taste of mint ( or with a hint of chocolate) makes a perfect tea for after meals or relaxing with a good book.
This summer I’ve gotten bolder. Maybe it’s the inspiration of the simple and fresh recipes from GatheredTable. Maybe it’s the beauty of all the different herbs. Maybe it’s the fact that I want the few meals that I do get to share with Brian to feel special, like dining out on a date night. No matter what the cause, the effect has been amazing. Here are the herbs that are plentiful at the farmers market this spring and how I’ve been using them.
I’ve gone beyond tea. It started with an NPR story, as many of my adventures lately seem to do. On Here And Now a few weeks ago there was a story on salads with spring produce. Chef Kathy Gunst let me in on a little secret: add a little mint to your greens to make an ordinary salad “pop”. The next Saturday a bought fresh mint, a bag of spring mix and made avocado egg salad for lunch. I added some mint in the mix along with a little extra spinach and had my egg salad on top of a bed of greens. I used the same mix of greens to stuff Brian’s pita and he asked me what I had done differently. He noticed the extra layer of flavor with his egg salad sandwich, as did I on my salad. Who knew that mint was the secret ingredient to make greens extraordinary?
It started with the mushrooms. I grabbed a bundle of fresh thyme to make the Millet and Mushroom Bowls last month. It was used both for roasting the mushrooms and in the dressing, making it the signature flavor in this dish. In it’s fresh state it’s woody but not overwhelming like the dried version can be. It also brought life to the Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms from the Healthy Pasta cookbook.
If you think sage is only for stuffing, think again. Sage was paired with the thyme in the Mostaccioli with Asparagus and Roasted Mushrooms to create flavorful pasta sans sauce and cheese. Sage pairs well with thyme in eggs as well. I decided to freestyle bit with an asparagus frittata recipe I had, subbing thyme and sage for tarragon.
I use dried chives all the time but the Linguine with Spinach and Lemon may be my first fresh chive experiment. Brian didn’t even know what I was chopping when I was cooking dinner! Shame on me for not going fresh with this herb sooner. Fresh chives are also great in dips and salads. With the bounty of fresh lettuce and radishes at the market right now I am dying to try this Butter Lettuce Salad with Radishes, Chives and Toasted Hazelnuts.
Basil is just starting to make its appearance at the market, so I see some pesto in my future. I also see a lot more of a “new to me” green that I saw for the first time at the market this month: pea shoots. Pea shoots are a micro green common in Asian cuisine that are quick to grow and easy to cook. Akin to watercress, you can add it to salads and soups with ease. My adventurous spirit bought a bunch and stir-fried it with some garlic, salt and sesame oil. It was a perfect simple side that Brian gave a big thumbs up!
I will still keep a cupboard of dried herbs. They do have their place. If it says fresh, I know now it says so for a reason. That fresh herb may be the key to taking dinner from good to great!
What’s your favorite way to use fresh herbs? Anyone else love pea shoots?