ModernHostess: Green Thumb Edition
You may have noticed in some of my previous posts that I have a thing for fresh herbs. I absolutely love them, and I believe they add something truly special to a variety of sauces, salads and marinades. Some people assume that dried and fresh herbs can be used interchangeably. Well, at the risk of sounding dramatic, that’s just SO WRONG! As a matter of fact, that line of thought is just downright sinful to me (and not in a good way). There is such a vast and profound difference between dried and fresh herbs that I fear I cannot possibly explain it…but I’ll try!
When most herbs are dried, they lose the majority of their flavour and moisture. Think about flowers – when they’re fresh, you can smell them from a mile away; when they’re dried, they make for a lovely decorative souvenir, but the fragrance they emit is very subtle, and sometimes undetectable. The same idea applies to herbs. With the exception of dried oregano, which I happen to love, dried herbs add a small but very limited flavour to whatever you’re adding them to. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, permeate the entire dish without overpowering it. My favourite example of an herb that is completely different dried versus fresh is basil. When it’s dried, you can barely taste it. However, when it’s fresh, it’s sweet beautiful flavour is undeniable. One of my favourite ways to use basil is as a topper for a salad. It adds an extra element of fresh flavour that will keep your salad from being mundane.
Much like fresh flowers, fresh herbs are delicate, and thus many of them might lose a lot of their appeal if cooked too long. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be added to sauces, stews, or other slow-cooked meals; just add them at the end of the cooking process so they retain their gorgeous green colour and fresh flavour. Some herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, are more earthy, and are wonderful with any meat marinade (see my recipe for rack of lamb with a rosemary-dijon marinade below), or with sauteed vegetables, especially mushrooms. Ever tasted focaccia bread? That distinct, savoury taste usually comes from the addition of rosemary. Other herbs, like basil, parsley or chives, have a bit more of a lightness to them, and are excellent in salads, or other uncooked dishes, as a garnish over cooked meats or fish, or in pastas.
Planting your own herb garden is easy, and believe me, is well worth the small effort it takes to maintain. Using your own herbs is not only impressive, but is also extremely satisfying. Plus, you’ll have access to all the herbs you want all summer. All you have to do is pick up some already-blooming herbs at the grocery or fruit store, as well as some earth. Fill a planter about ⅓ full with earth, then carefully invert the herb plant from its original plastic container, keeping surrounding soil intact, and place, plant side up, in planter. Fill planter with earth, leaving about a ½ to 1 inch space at the top. Water as needed.
Fresh herbs are extraordinary in marinades, especially in my recipe for Rosemary-Dijon rack of lamb. Try it the next time you’re craving a meaty, satisfying treat. Enjoy!
Rosemary-Dijon Rack of Lamb
- 1 rack of lamb
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- Splash of red wine
- 1 clove garlic, minced.
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (you can adjust to taste)
- Salt and pepper, to taste.
Combine Dijon mustard, wine, garlic, rosemary and seasonings in a small bowl. Spread to coat meat evenly. Grill on BBQ on high heat until desired doneness, rotating so that all sides are cooked (recommended: about 20 minutes, until meat is medium-rare). Place meat on a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes so that juices can be reabsorbed into the meat. Slice into chops and serve.