Most of us were introduced to herbs and spices through a gift or purchase of the ultimate, spinning spice rack, containing at least 20 herbs and spices. We would measure these somewhat dusty powders and flakes with the precision of chemist, being sure the follow the recipe formula. We had no idea what these herbs actually looked or smelled like before they were dried, processed and packaged, into our perfect little jars.
The flavor of fresh herbs has little in common with what comes in a jar. Jars will always have their place, but the often mild and musty flavors truly do not compare to herbs that come straight from the garden. Fresh herbs present with a curious depth of flavor, along with their colorful appearance. They taste just a little different every time, depending on when and where they were planted, harvested and consumed. The flavors of herbs are intertwined with whatever food you are preparing, adding unique color, taste and excitement. Some herbs provide sharp, almost citrus-like flavors, others are mellow and sweet, while others are pungent and highly aromatic. Good news~ all are virtually calorie-free, so be generous!
On top of their unique flavorings, they can also add nutritional value to your creative dishes. Here are just a few that can easily be the start of your fresh herb garden🌿 or available at most markets.
🌱BASIL — is a culinary herb of the mint family and a native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia, hence why it is often present in Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. There are over 150 species of basil and may individual strains and hybrids. The most popular basil, is actually sweet basil, perhaps for the happiness it brings to your herb garden — as it loves the heat and grows in abundance. About 6 leaves or 2 chopped tablespoons provide 16 mg of potassium. Basil has been used in some cultures for medicinal purposes and its oils and extracts are said to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties, but you are consuming it for flavor and color more than anything else. It is hard to imagine summer without fresh basil, for its spicy, vibrant scent truly captures the season. Of course, its use in pesto is surely a favorite.
CILANTRO — Cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant. The name coriander is derived from the Latin korris, which means bedbug😝…lol. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L) is part of the Apiaceae family, which contains 3,700 species, including carrots, celery, and parsley. It is mostly used in Mexican and Thai dishes, as well as Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian meals like curries and masalas. Although touted to have antioxidant properties, it is flavor that makes this herb so essential. Cilantro adds a delicious zest to food. However, I am sure you have friends or family members who absolutely dislike cilantro. For the lovers of cilantro, this reaction is not relatable. But it is not the haters fault, it is simple genetics. Many people who do not like cilantro have the OR6A2 gene. This gene influences cell receptors to pick up the scent of aldehyde chemicals. Say what?? These aldehyde chemicals are found in cilantro… and soap. This is why many (unfortunate) people truly believe that cilantro tastes like soap. For those of us without the OR6A2 gene, bring on the cilantro!
PARSLEY- otherwise known as Petroselinum crispum, is also part of the family Apiaceae, native to Mediterranean region. Parsley leaves were actually used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a flavoring and garnish for foods, very similar to how we use parsley today. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties due to its antioxidants, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. There are the two different types of the most common available parsley, curly versus the flat-leaf or Italian parsley. The difference in flavor is very subtle, although the flat-leaf parsley is considered to be stronger and better tasting. It must of been the curly parsley I was not a lover of (especially growing up and only eating it during the Passover seder, when you dip it in salt water😝), but as I have somewhat matured :) — I have discovered that it is a nutritional and colorful boost to many dishes.
COOKING WITH FRESH HERBS: *It is best to add these fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process, to maximize their flavor. *Separate the leaves from the stems and only use the leaves, unless a recipe states otherwise. *Use a sharp knife or herb scissors when chopping fresh herbs. *When using fresh instead of dried herbs in a recipe, add 3–4 times more fresh herbs than the recipe calls for. *When cooking with more robust herbs like rosemary and thyme, the more savory herbs, add these earlier in the cooking process to maximize flavor.
BASIL or CILANTRO PESTO
Pestos are such an awesome way to flavor anything from fish, chicken and veggies, to gnocchi and orzo. Both basil and cilantro can add an intense flavor, so choose what you are in the mood for, but just choose one at a time. I use a low sodium broth to decrease the amount of calories and fat from too much oil.
1 bunch basil or cilantro
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 ounces pine nuts or walnuts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons vegetable broth, low sodium
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the basil or cilantro in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add the garlic and pine nuts and pulse to combine. Add about the olive oil and blend until a paste begins to form. Add the broth, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese.
Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper, and even more garlic😊 . Toss with your protein or pasta of choice. Makes about 2 cups.
GRILLED CAULIFLOWER STEAKS
Cauliflower is quite the versatile vegetable, as it can play the part of the rice, the steak or vegetable. In this recipe, it is the “steak,” but you could easily chop the cauliflower into florets instead and roast in the oven.
1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and sliced into about 4–5 slabs
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one lemon
1/2–1 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley (and/or cilantro)
pinch of chili flakes
Preheat grill to medium-high. If using a grill basket, place on the grill to preheat as well. Combine garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Rub all over cauliflower steaks. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, parsley and chili flakes in a separate bowl.
Place cauliflower steaks directly on grill or in grill basket. Grill for 6–7 minutes, basting with olive oil, parsley and chili flakes mixture. Flip over and repeat basting and grilling for about 5–6 minutes. Both sides should appear slightly charred on both sides. Transfer to serving platter and drizzle remaining mixture on top. Sprinkle with extra chili flakes, if desired.
If roasting, roast at 450 degrees for about 20–25 minutes, basting and flipping about every 5 minutes.
CILANTRO LIME MARGARITAS
Herbs and alcohol can be one of the most refreshing combinations to indulge in during the summer. Although it is not ideal that we can not order straight up at a bar right now, we can create this interesting concoction at home with less sugar yet remarkable flavor. I adopted this from Cooking Light, with a little sweet and more alcohol ;). This pungent herb really amps up the tastebuds here!
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, including leaves and stems
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons honey
6 ounces tequila
lime slices and cilantro for garnish
Blend cilantro, water, lime juice and honey in blender until smooth. Skim and discard the foam on the top. This is your base. To assemble the margarita, fill shaker with ice. Add 1/4 cup cilantro mixture and 1 1/2 (2, if you like it stronger :)ounces tequila per margarita. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain into glass. Garnish with lime slice and cilantro. Repeat. Makes 4 servings.
Saving the herbs: There are almost always extra herbs sitting around, so storing them properly for a second or third use is key. Basil can be stored in a vase on your kitchen counter, adding color and scent to your kitchen. Cilantro and parsley will last longer in just a glass of water in your fridge. For the long haul (about 3 months) storage technique, you can chop them up and freeze with water in an ice cube tray — which definitely works well for future cocktails 🍹.
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While watching the news of yet another act of racism, violence and injustice, I thought about a cookbook I purchased at the very beginning of my career called The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook. It is a cookbook about creating healthier versions of traditional black family recipes, along with the food memories that are a part of each recipe. But it is more than just a cookbook. It embodies how we are stronger when we act together. The quilts are a tangible example in history of how black women used the resources at hand to enrich their lives. The book was created to share their stories, experiences and memories, symbolizing a colorful quilt ~ embodying how dinner conversations over their past 50 years created history and delicious food, never to be forgotten. The book explores quilting as a metaphor for communication, fellowship, and richness of sharing between women of all races.
The cookbook is based on the same balancing act we are all working on today, enjoying nutritious, tasteful and satisfying foods, through balance, moderation and variety. Here is my adaptation on the tips provided, that remain relevant today:
Since the cookbook was published in 1993, there have been many more nutritional advances in the world of cooking. I have adapted these recipes with our healthful ingredients available today, yet continuing to share these wonderful and traditional recipes of our past.
JAMAICAN JERKED CHICKEN
This recipe calls for Crisco oil, which I replaced with low sodium vegetable broth, as well as decreased the amount of sugars and sodium. Though it makes 10-12 servings, and most of us are not quite so many right now, share with a neighbor in need or freeze for another meal. The recipe suggests marinating for 2 days — for full flavor!
1 1/2 cups soy sauce, low sodium
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup thin sliced fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped fresh garlic
4 green onions, trimmed and roughly cut
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable broth, low sodium
1/4 cup ground allspice
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2–3 dozen chicken thighs and/or legs, skinless, trimmed (about 6 pounds)
Place soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, garlic, onions and peppers in a food processor bowl. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in vinegar through cloves. Let stand 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings with soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar. Marinade should be spicy, gingery and slightly sweet and sour. Place chicken in large heavy resealable plastic bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Seal and refrigerate for 2 days, turning occasionally.
Remove chicken from marinade. Grill or broil. Turn frequently to avoid charring. Makes 10–12 servings.
NEW ORLEANS STEW
One of the most beautiful things I have seen and listened to during COVID-19 are the faces and sounds of the musicians of New Orleans. They come in every color, shape and size…they represent the United States of America, from ear to ear… www.lettersfromtheporch.com, a concert series supporting local musicians as they pay tribute to healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. As for this stew :-), it is a traditional New Orleans dish, lightened up on the amount of fat and sodium, but keep it hot with spicy heat!
1 pound of ground turkey, lean (or meat substitute)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
8 ounces mushrooms, washed and sliced thin
1 10-ounce bag whole kernel corn
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups brown rice, pre-cooked
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
1 green bell pepper, washed, seeded, cut into strips
parsley and hot sauce, to taste
In a large skillet, sauté turkey while mixing often to break apart. Add onion and mushrooms. Cook until tender. Add water, corn, salt and chili powder. Bring to a boil.
Stir in rice, tomato and green pepper. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with hot sauce. Makes 5 servings.
CRISPY OVEN FRIED FISH
I do love a tasty, crispy fried fish. I will not order it when out, but I will make it at home — by baking it. You can oven fry almost anything. You could use an air fryer as well, but for soft, flakey fish, the oven works best.
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 flounder or sole fillets (about 1 pound)
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons white wine
nonstick cooking spray (or olive oil in a plant-spray bottle)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray baking sheet with oil.
Combine bread crumbs through garlic powder in shallow pan.
Combine lemon juice and wine in another shallow pan.
Rinse fish fillets and pat dry.
Dip each fillet in liquid mixture, then in crumb mixture, coating both sides.
Place on baking sheet and spray top of fish with oil.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. Makes 4 tasty servings.
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The rebellious Rd.
As a longtime promoter of healthy cooking and eating, Amy's focus is on plant-based eating, with a rebellious twist - that she and no one, needs to be perfect.