Conscious Cook: Fresh summer herbs delight the senses
“An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.” — Charlemagne
Fresh herbs have delighted the senses and tantalized the taste buds for centuries. In medieval times great bundles of herbs were strewn on castle floors as a natural air purifier. Brides of this day often choose to wear delicate crowns of flowers interwoven with herbs upon their heads, and both Western and Eastern medical practitioners may employ herbal remedies for their patients.
Many cooks are quite passionate about utilizing herbs in their favorite recipes. Especially bountiful summer herbs, which perfume the garden with their titillating scents and enhance the plate with their wonderful array of flavors. Using fresh herbs allows cooks to cut back on unnecessary salt, fat and sugars, while naturally elevating main ingredients.
Brimming with health benefits, each herb plays a special role in beautifying and fortifying the body. Rosemary, for example, may improve memory. Parsley is packed with apigenin, which could potentially reduce the chances of cancerous growths and tumors. Oregano, like all other herbs, has anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce joint inflammation. Oregano is also particularly anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and can contribute to flawless skin and glossy hair. The calcium content in basil and parsley can help maintain healthy teeth. Mint is calming and soothing and can be a digestive aid. The heady aroma of fresh summer herbs may help relieve any effects of nausea, as well as soothing and reviving the senses.
Basil’s affinity with tomatoes is a most engaging taste combination. For a classic taste of summer — serve sun warmed tomatoes sprinkled with shards of fresh basil leaves and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The slightly sharp bite of chives enlivens potatoes, eggs and salad dressings. Cilantro is a must for Mexican and Asian dishes. Dill adds a light, lovely layer to fish, while the snappy tang of parsley is delightful in tabouli, potato salad, and pasta. Mint is essential for tall glasses of cold iced tea or lemonade and also for embellishing summer fruit platters. Transport your taste buds to the Mediterranean and prepare a bean salad loaded with summer veggies and a huge handful of freshly minced oregano, basil, parsley and dill. Or scent your grill with the woody stalks of rosemary. They make great skewers, infusing meat, fish and vegetables with bright, strong flavors.
Clean herbs by soaking in a bowl of cool water, changing the water several times, or until you no longer see any dirt in the bottom of the bowl. Spin dry in a salad spinner, or on layers of paper towel. For hot dishes, add herbs at the end of cooking time, to avoid diluting their essence.
Delight your summer senses with fresh herbs as you prepare your delicious life!
Mediterranean Bean Salad
1 can organic white beans (drained and well rinsed)
1 can organic garbanzo beans (drained and well rinsed)
1 cup halved fresh summer cherry tomatoes
1 large cucumber, washed and sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced (soak in water for several hours, drain and dry)
½ cup hot cherry peppers, chopped
1 cup mixed olives
1 cup diced sweet peppers
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup marinated artichoke hearts
basil, parsley, oregano, dill to equal 1 cup, roughly chopped
Mix together in a tightly sealed glass jar:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons total- minced basil, parsley, oregano, dill
1 minced garlic clove
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place beans in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and drizzle with half the dressing. Toss gently until well coated. Taste and adjust seasoning and add more dressing, if desired. Place any remaining dressing at the table. Can be prepared two days ahead of time and cover tightly for storage.