Monday, August 26, 2013

Neighbor, neighbor, cultivator, what in your garden grew? So very, very many herbs, that now I don’t know what to do!

H erbs are prolific and can easily yield more than you might think you know what to do with. They are best fresh – see below for some delicious recipe ideas - but If you have more than you can use, follow these suggestions to preserve herbs for later:
Herbs are easily dried in a light and airy place, away from direct sun. In humid weather I have been quite successful by pinning herbs between two layers of netting and hanging this pouch up near a fan.
Many herbs can also be successfully flash frozen. Clean and, if desired, chop the leaves, spread out on a small baking dish and freeze. Once frozen, quickly pour into a container and take as needed.
Some cooks also suggest freezing herbs in water in an ice cube tray.
The basil family also lends itself to freezing as a pesto base of mashed leaves and olive oil. It is best to add garlic and salt immediately before use as these ingredients tend to lose their flavor when frozen

Here are a few tried and true, quick and easy ideas for fresh herbs:
Sprinkle herbs on almost any savory dish to improve it.
Simmer lemongrass and sugar in water to make a delicate syrup and use to flavor tea or lemonade.
Add chopped lemongrass to a stir fry or braise for a delicate lemon flavor.
Crush a few mint leaves and add to a glass of cold water for a refreshing drink on a hot day.
Grind almost any herb to a paste with a little oil (and salt and garlic, if desired) to make a “pesto”, which is delicious on pasta, stirred in rice, spread on fish, added to grilled cheese sandwiches, on baked potatoes…..
snip some cilantro for your salsa ,
mix up an herb yogurt dip as a healthy replacement for sour cream based spreads.
And last, but not least, a surprising herb: tomato leaves in very small quantities ( Harold McGee, New York Times, July 28, 2009 ). Tomato leaves are toxic when eaten in large amounts, but adding two to three very young leaves to a batch of tomato sauce gives an amazing boost to the tomato flavor.
And a few more ambitious recipes :

Vegetable sushi
These handmade “rustic” sushi are fusion cooking at its best. Perfect for an informal party, they are also an ideal way to finish up odds and ends of vegetables. You can make them ahead of time, or set out all of the supplies and let diners make their own at the table. Form hand rolls from warm sushi rice (see recipe below), and top with any fresh, cooked, or pickled vegetable. Garnish with purple shiso leaf and mint as shown, or any other herbs you have on hand, and enjoy.

2 cups short-grain white rice
1 teaspoon sake, optional
For seasoned vinegar:
1 cup rice vinegar
3/8 cup sugar
1 piece konbu (kelp), about 3 or 4 inches square
2 tablespoons salt, plus a pinch
or use commercially prepared sushi vinegar.

Raw or lightly steamed or sautéed vegetables, such as radish, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, beets

Herbs, such as shiso leaf, mint, cilantro, dill

Optional: nori (seaweed) for sushi rolls

1. Prepare seasoned vinegar: Combine vinegar, sugar and 2 tablespoons salt in a container and stir until dissolved. Add konbu and let sit about 30 minutes. Remove the konbu and let sit in a covered container for at least 2 hours and up to several days at room temperature or refrigerated. You can also use commercially prepared sushi vinegar.
2. Rinse rice with water until water runs clear. Combine with sake (if using), a pinch of salt, and 3 cups water stovetop). Bring to boil, stir well and simmer on medium-low heat, covered, until water is absorbed for 15 minutes. Remove pot from burner and let stand, undisturbed, for an additional 10 minutes.
3. Turn rice into a large bowl, and let cool until it can be handled.
4. Using a rubber spatula, a wooden paddle or spoon, gently fold seasoned vinegar into rice, a little at a time, until it is moist and sweet but still holds together well.
5. Wet your hands to form hand rolls, and garnish with toppings. Alternatively, spread rice on a sheet of nori, add toppings, roll up and slice with a very sharp knife.
Yield : Enough rice for 4 generous or 6 small portions of sushi.

Adapted from Mark Bittman, New York Times, May 5, 2010

Roasted Summer Fruit in Caramel Sauce

A deceptively easy, elegant late summer treat.
Time: 30 minutes

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
4 ripe but firm pieces of summer fruit,
such as peaches, apricots, plums, etc.,
halved and pitted.
Sprigs of fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, lavender or mint
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Optional : 1/3 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sugar in an ovenproof skillet. Drizzle with syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture liquefies. Continue cooking until mixture is light caramel color. Do not overcook!
2. Place fruit on the syrup, cut side down. Top with herbs. Place in oven and bake 5 minutes, until caramel has darkened and fruit is tender but still holds its shape. Use spatula and very carefully turn fruit cut side up, return to oven and roast another 3 to 5 minutes, until edges of fruit have browned. Do not cook long enough for fruit to collapse.
3. Remove from oven. Discard herbs. Transfer fruit to serving dish or to individual plates. Lift off skins, if desired, especially from peaches, if thick.
4. Place pan on top of stove, and swirl in butter. Cook a few seconds over low heat.
5. If using, whisk in cream to make rich caramel sauce.
Pour sauce over and around fruit, and serve warm.
Yield: 4 servings.
Adapted from Tom Colicchio, the chef and an owner of Craft and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, New York Times, August 29, 2001