Salt of the Earth
This year, I’m participating a Mastery Challenge of food preservation hosted by Marisa McClellan at Food in Jars. The challenge for February, the second month, is Salt Preserving. There were so many different avenues to explore in this category. I decided to focus on this technique for extending the lifespan of herbs.
While February is not the ideal month for fresh herbs in the garden, it is still a good month to practice with store-bought herbs in anticipation of the summer season.
My first experiment was Salamoia Bolognese. I’d read about this Italian herb salt on You Grow Girl a while back, so this was the perfect opportunity to put it into action. I followed Guyla’s recipe more-or-less. I hand-chopped the sage and rosemary, chopped the garlic in a mini-chopper, and took the liberty of adding peppercorns which confined in a ziplock bag and whacked with a rolling pin to crack them. The mixture is spread on a baking sheet for a couple of days while the salt dehydrates the moisture from the herbs and garlic. I sometimes wish that blogs came with “scratch-and-sniff”. While the mixture did its magic, it smelled fabulous every time I walked by.
I also used this mastery challenge as an excuse to make The River Cottage’s Vegetable Bouillon, another recipe I’ve been wanting to try. The food processor made quick work of chopping the vegetables and herbs. Again, the fragrance was enticing. This mixture of salt, celery root, carrots, fennel, and leek, along with cilantro and parsley, is packed into jars that are refrigerated or frozen. A spoonful added to a cup of boiling water makes a cup of vegetable bouillon. I used several spoonfuls to make vegetable stock I used in a roasted carrot soup. I ended up with more jars than I need for the foreseeable future so I shared some, put one in the fridge, and a couple in the freezer for later.
My final experiment builds on the Italian herb salt. After finding some stalks of lemongrass in my vegetable drawer, I decided to invent a Southeast Asian herb salt from garlic, ginger, lemongrass, serrano pepper, lime zest, and cilantro. I combined all the ingredients with a healthy dose of coarse salt and left it out to dry for a few days. This salt smelled even more amazing than the original version. Because there was a higher ration of moist ingredients than the Italian version, it took a little longer to feel dry. After the first day, I felt impatient, so I let the herby salt spend an hour in the oven on the Dehydrate setting (120F) which accelerated the process. After another day at room temperature, it was ready to pack into a jar.
I really enjoyed these projects. Now I’m excited about the combinations I can dream up during the summer when my prolific back-door herb garden cries to be used. Holiday food gifts in the making!
Southeast Asian Herb Salt
Yield: 1½ cups
2-3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 large lobe of ginger, peeled
1 Serrano pepper, seeded
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and any dry layers removed
Zest of 1 lime
Leaves from ½ bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 cup coarse sea salt
In a mini-chopper, finely chop the garlic, ginger, hot pepper, and lemongrass. Depending on the size of your chopper, you might need to do this in batches. Transfer the chopped ingredients to a medium bowl. Hand-chop the cilantro leaves. Add to the bowl along with the lime zest. Add salt and combine well. (I used my hands.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the salt mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Let it sit at room temperature for 48-72 hours until it feels relatively dry to the touch. If you are worried about dust or pet hair, mostly cover the sheet with an upside-down baking sheet of similar size. Don’t cover completely because the moisture needs a way to escape.
When ready, if the salt seems clumpy (mine did), transfer it to a bowl and lightly break it up with your hands before transferring to a jar.