Category Archives: Herbs

Salt of the Earth

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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.

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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.

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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.

Delicious AND Decorative!

BackyardHerbGarden

Herbs are wonderfully plentiful in the summer. I have a backdoor herb garden with many perennial (and a few annual) herbs waiting to be snipped as I need them. Favorites are several varieties of thyme, winter savory (meaning it’s perennial, unlike its cousin, summer savory), oregano, and tarragon. Annuals that I plant every year include rosemary, lemon verbena, and marjoram. This year, I’m also trying out Thai basil.

I also have a few basil plants interspersed between the cherry tomatoes in the vegetable garden. To be honest, I call it the vegetable garden, but it’s really the cherry tomato garden as that’s the only vegetable I’m growing (except for one zucchini plant in the hopes of getting some blossoms to stuff and fry). We also grew a bed of sugar snap peas earlier in the summer. So, back to the herbs.

In addition to what’s growing in my backyard, as part of my farm share, I can pick handfuls of several types of annual herbs each week: basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill. Other than the basil, these aren’t ones I bother to grow at home. The quantity I use and the schedule of readiness just don’t map with practicality.

I’ve had mixed results with storing fresh-cut herbs in the fridge. Even in plastic bags, with or without wrapping the stems in damp paper towels, they only last a few days before yellowing or drying up or rotting.

I’ve finally settled on a method that keeps the herbs fresh for a week or more with the added bonus of providing a decorative touch to my kitchen counter. I simply treat the bouquets of herbs as I would fresh flowers, using small pitchers or jars as vases.

Parsley, Cilantro, and Dill surround some fresh cut flowers.

Parsley, Cilantro, and Dill surround some fresh cut flowers.

In the case of basil, where sometimes, I’ve pinched the tops so there isn’t much of a stem, I float the cuttings in a bowl of water. The herbs stay green, and occasionally the basil tops will start to roots after a week.

Floating Basil Tops

Sometimes I hesitate to use the herbs (though only for a moment) because of how pretty they look!

Parsley

Chimichurri, the Argentine sauce, is a wonderful way to use a variety of mixed herbs. This recipe calls for equal amounts of cilantro and parsley with smaller amounts of mint and oregano, but that is just a guide. I find it best to stick with the recipe’s use of a large quantity of parsley and/or cilantro for the base and accent with your favorite herbs or the ones you have on hand. Chimichurri is delicious served on fish, chicken, steak or roasted or steamed vegetables.

Chimichurri

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cilantro
1 cup parsley
½ cup mint
¼ cup oregano
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
Red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil

Sauté minced garlic in a little olive oil for a few minutes to soften. Place herbs and sautéed garlic in the food processor until roughly chopped (do not puree). Transfer to a bowl or jar. Add lemon juice and vinegar. Season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in olive oil, and let it sit for an hour or more so flavors can blend. Store chimichurri in the refrigerator, but let it come to room temperature before using.