Culinary Herbs — Fresh Is Best

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“Are those herbs?” asked a friend looking at a three-tiered planter box on my deck, brimming with basil, chives, rosemary, dill, thyme, parsley and mint. “I’ve been thinking about planting herbs.”

“I love snipping herbs for cooking,” I said.

“Exactly,” she said. “The convenience and flavor must be amazing.”

Herbs are so versatile. You can plant them in the ground or grow them in individual pots on windowsills and patios.

The first time I bought herbs, the owner of the garden center gave me advice: “Don’t fuss over them. Don’t overwater. Just put them in soil and let them be.” But most herbs need five hours of sun per day.

Their succulent leaves boost salads, deepen the intensity of sauces and make perky garnishes. Mint enhances both savory foods and fruity desserts. Push rosemary needles under chicken skin for spectacular flavor. The best potato salads are seasoned with thyme. Dill, parsley and basil exude summer.

“You can actually taste the freshness of homegrown herbs,” my daughter said, enjoying a corn salad. “The basil and chives we’re eating were warmed by the sun just 20 minutes ago. Even herbs from farmers markets can’t compete with that.”

Once fall comes, I suggest harvesting garden herbs. Mince and freeze dill, parsley and chives. Hang basil, thyme, mint and rosemary upside down for four weeks until they’ve dried. Pull off the leaves and store them in zippered bags. Their flavor is so much more vibrant than bottled herbs on store shelves. With any luck, your summer crop will last all winter.

Mint tea with sprigs of mint
Maya23K / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Mint Tea | Pareve

Serves 4

Consuming mint tea is a popular pastime among some Sephardic Jews, particularly from Morocco and Iraq. Mint tea is served in Israel and in many Israeli restaurants in America.

Equipment: a 1½ quart teapot; heatproof glasses or mugs

  • 1 large bunch of mint, about 1 ounce
  • 4 teabags of orange pekoe and pekoe cut black tea, such as Lipton
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Rinse mint under cold water. Gently shake off water and dry on paper towels. Reserve.

Bring 4½ cups of water to a boil in a kettle. Meanwhile, fill the teapot with hot tap water to warm it. Cover the teapot. When the water boils, discard the contents of the teapot.

Place the teabags inside the warm teapot, along with the sugar. Pour the boiling water into the teapot and cover it again. Let the teabags steep for 2 minutes. To the teapot, add all but several sprigs of mint. Cover it and steep another minute or two.

Add a fresh sprig of mint to each glass. Pour the tea immediately into heatproof glasses. Serve immediately.

Marinated Picholine Olives | Pareve

Yield: about 1 cup of marinated olives. Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre.

  • 1/4 pound green picholine olives (select brine cured olives with pits, not canned)
  • 2 cloves garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped fine
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped fine
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and gently stir. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving in an attractive bowl.

Classic Cheese Ball with Herbs | Dairy

Yield: 1 large cheese ball. Serves 6-8 as an hors d’oeuvre.

  • 1 (8-ounce) bar of reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 4 ounces of soft cheddar cheese at room temperature
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lite mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon: parsley, chives, thyme and dill, chopped fine
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

In a medium-sized bowl, place the room-temperature cream cheese, cheddar, garlic, salt and mustard. Mash the ingredients together until well blended. Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, parsley, chives, thyme, and dill. Using the fork, continue mixing and mashing until all ingredients are combined.

Spread the pecans evenly on a plate. With a spatula, twirl the cheese mixture from the bowl into a sphere. Lift the sphere from the bowl and place it on top of the pecans. Using your hands, roll the cheese mixture around in the pecans until it becomes a round ball covered with pecans.

Wrap the cheese ball in aluminum foil and refrigerate it for two hours before serving. Recipe can be made up to three days ahead. If refrigerated until hardened, let soften unwrapped at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Corn Salad with Basil and Chives | Pareve

Serves 4

If you’ve got leftover corn on the cob, use it in this salad.

  • 3 ears of corn, steamed
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons basil, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons chives, chopped fine
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more, if needed

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. With salad servers, toss gently until well combined. Move to a crystal bowl or other attractive bowl. Can be served immediately, or left at room temperature covered with plastic wrap before serving. Can be refrigerated but return to room temperature before serving.

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