Herbs


My friend, Mary, who so generously gives of her time as Librarian at the Scottsboro Nutrition Center,  has asked me to do a column or two on herbs and how to use them.  So for the next couple weeks I will be doing just that. I am selecting to focus only on the most common culinary herbs and will not be getting into the use of them in medicinal aspects.  
You can grow herbs in pots, in a small herb bed in your garden or yard easily in the summer. They all seem to thrive in our climate. In my garden now the herbs have just gone wild and I am in the process of cutting and drying them in my food dehydrator.  You do not need a dehydrator to do this. You can cut them and hang them upside down in a dry spot or on the lowest setting of an electric oven. If your oven is gas, you can just put them in, spread out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and let the pilot light dry them.  Just remember to take them out before preheating your oven for cooking! The monetary savings of growing and drying your own herbs is considerable if you use them often in your cooking as I do. Herbs can add great flavor to food and if you are on a restricted-salt diet,  herbs can take the place of salt and add flavor to otherwise bland dishes.
Mary asked me to give her ideas on what to use the herbs in.  My rule of thumb is- If it tastes good, use it. People have such varied tastes, it is hard to say what you will like.  Just experiment with a teaspoon of dried or a tablespoon of fresh and see if you like it. Herbs should not be overpowering but lend a subtle note to a dish.
Basil - Starting alphabetically with the most-often used herbs in the pantry, basil is the great star of summer around my house. I grow several plants in the garden and use it, fresh, in salads with tomatoes, cheese, corn and many of the summer vegetable dishes. Water will turn basil brown and unattractive so I just inspect mine for bugs, shake it for any foreign matter  and let it go at that. Since it grown upright and is not on the ground there is no reason it should have dirt on it in the first place. At the end of the summer, I harvest all the basil and make pesto which I give to eager friends and store in glass jars in the refrigerator, covered with olive oil to prevent it turning brown, to use in all sorts of soups, stews and pasta dishes through the winter. I am just now running out of this handy product and am willing my baby basil plants to kick their growth into high gear!
Basil is used mainly in Italian-type dishes such as spaghetti sauce, lasagna, ratatouille, minestrone, gazpacho, etc. Mostly use dry basil unless you have a plethora of the fresh for these dishes and save the fresh for salads and making pesto.
Dill- One of the prettiest herbs to grown is dill. It has light green feathery fronds and a pungent smell that lends itself to lots of uses. When it comes into flower, you can pick the flowers as a garnish for your dishes to dress them up.  If you choose to grow, rather than buy your dill, plant in early spring or late summer as it is not a heat lover.  It is easy to grow, as are most of the herbs I will address.
I like dill in devilled eggs, salad dressings such as Jay’s café-which I have given you in the past, frittatas, pasta salads, savory biscuits and any other recipe that calls for it.   It is one of my favorite herbs and I grown it each year and try to restrain myself to have enough to dry.
Italian seasoning- I admit I buy rather than make a blend of the herbs that make up Italian Seasonings. These usually consist of thyme, basil, marjoram, rosemary, parsley and sage.  Anything Italian can stand a teaspoon or two of these herbs.  Try adding these to your tomato sauces or throwing them into a frittata or salad dressing if you make your own.  As I said before, experiment and suit your own taste and that of your family.
Oregano-  Another herb used frequently in Italian cooking is Oregano.  It grows easily in summer and my oregano, along with my thyme,  actually came back with a vengeance after last winters frigid temperatures. As I said, I am in the process of cutting and drying them now. It is taking several days to do this since they are back in such abundance. Cutting back will actually help the plants and they will continue through the summer and I will most likely get another cutting before frost. I store my dried herbs in glass jars in my pantry. I put small amounts into small herb bottles and keep close to the cooking area.
Oregano has a distinct smell and flavor, as do all the herbs, Again, it is used often in Italian dishes. But it is also good in beef dishes, chicken dishes and pork dishes. I throw a teaspoon or so into omelets and quiches. Chili benefits greatly from oregano as well as vegetable soups.
So, Mary, don’t be shy about using herbs. Just don’t over-do it and I am sure you will enjoy the results.
Next week I will address parsley, rosemary thyme and sage.
 And remember, you can always Google  if you are in doubt!

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