Your Favorite Fresh Herb and Why
A fairly wet spring here in the nation's capital has done wonders for my backyard herb collection which barely made it through last summer's drought. My erstwhile-pathetic pot of oregano has morphed into a lush carpet of tender green leaves, popping with a woody perfume. And because it's doing such a number on my olfactory receptors, I'm using oregano in the kitchen whenever I have a chance - with feta cheese, in vinaigrettes, pizza sauce, omelettes, a pot of beans, to name a few.
Admittedly, my current crush on oregano has blinded me from the bounty of summer herbs currently on parade, and really, I must snap out of it before snow begins to fall. But it got me thinking: With such herby riches within my reach, how do I choose? I asked a handful of herb aficionados around the country the following question: What's your favorite fresh herb - and why?
Below, their scented sentiments.
Heidi, of Grand Rapids, Minn., writes: "Mint, mint, mint, mint, mint, mint, MINT! My husband and I have a chocolate mint plant that has gone crazy in our garden and we add it to our water bottles with ice and also make a great carrot mint salad with shredded carrots, olive oil and honey."
I'm crazy about mint, too. Growing up, I liked to chew mint leaves from the garden of our neighbor Mrs. Karl; I'd walk across the street, check out her zinnias and pick a few mint leaves to freshen up my breath, but what I liked most was the ruffly feel in my mouth.
Reston, Va.-based blogger Erin Doland of Unclutterer.com has two favorites: "My favorite herbs are basil and tarragon. Basil is my 'I will use it whenever I damn well please' herb, and tarragon is my 'Look! I made Bearnaise sauce! On my own! And it isn't awful!' herb."
But she acknowledges that basil is moody - and "it is the hardest for me to grow. It doesn't like my north sun beating on it 15 hours a day. Nor does it enjoy going without water for eight days."
Diane from Philadelphia, Pa., gives a big shout out to "ROSEMARY! We love it because we have a rosemary bush that we tend to all year long. It is glorious! We use it on everything from Tuscan bread, to garlic and rosemary pork rub, to putting it on the coals of the grill when we do steak. We also keep fresh cut rosemary all around the kitchen as a decoration and an aromatic."
I like how Bettina Stern of Washington, D.C.-based cooking Web site Loulies.com, is thinking: "I love the combo of garden-fresh mint and cilantro in this twist on gremolata (usually parsley is used). Combined with the zesty flavor of lemon and the sharp, assertiveness of garlic, it works perfectly with summer zucchini making headway in the backyard."
Gremolata, by the way, is a superb salt-free seasoning (are you listening, high blood pressure people?) that pairs beautifully with potatoes, corn, grilled chicken and fish -- and yes, white beans!
Celebritologist and avid herb grower Liz Kelly reveals her leafy love: "Cilantro -- on everything from Latin American to Asian-inspired cooking -- it just works with practically anything heavy on veggies and in need of a little light, fresh note. A pot of heirloom beans with a little fresh cilantro and lime juice spritzed on top is fab. And almost any curry is given a little jolt with a few leaves of cilantro."
Although she's not gardening herbs these days, Jo from Waukesha, Wis. shared a link for a recipe for homemade herbed mayonnaise from Milwaukee chef Sandy D'Amato -- that even a non-mayo gal like myself might warm up to.
For deeper background, growing tips and recipes, you must have a look at "Mediterranean Herb Cookbook" by Georgeanne Brennan. It's a goodie.
This post would be incomplete without a request for your herby contributions. Which leaves rock your world? Scratch and sniff in the comments area.
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