Herbs in Cooking, part 2: Hot Herbs
In part 1, we talked about using herbs in cooking in cold preparations. Now let’s look at hot preparations. You are probably familiar with a nice cup of herb tea and using herbs in soups and stews, but how about using herbs in drinks, eggs, even desserts? (The link to part 1 is at the bottom of the post!)
When you steep an herb in water, it becomes medicinally known as a tisane or an infusion. Herb tea can be very soothing and healing, or simply comforting as a morning beverage or a warm evening night cap.
Peppermint – good for stomach complaints, digestion
Chamomile – soothing, sleep
Sage – stops night sweats
Rose hips – good source of vitamin C
Hibiscus – characteristic red color and floral flavor of ‘Red Zinger’
Use 2 Tbsp. of fresh herbs, or 1 Tsp. of dried herbs to 2 cups of boiling water. In a non-metallic container, pour water over herbs and let steep. Never boil tea, even black tea. Try without sweeteners first, they are surprisingly good by themselves.
Soups, Stews, and Sauces
Classical French cooking calls for certain blends of herbs for basic stock flavoring. Fines Herbes are minced herbs added at the end of cooking or sprinkled on top as a garnish at the end of cooking. This is typically a blend of tarragon, chives, chervil, parsley, and sometimes lavender. Consider making a blend of your own choosing to sprinkle on broiled meats or vegetables, or to add at the last minute to soups or sauces. Bouquets Garnis are stemmed herbs tied together with string or inside a cheesecloth bag for addition to long-cooking stocks and soups. Your bouquet can include fresh thyme, parsley, and bay leaves, but can also include green celery leaves, oregano, marjoram, etc. Take your bouquet out of your soup before service!
Egg Dishes and Sauces – Omelettes, scrambled eggs, even deviled eggs can all benefit from the use of herbs. Saute in the butter before adding eggs for cooking, or mix into the yolk mixture for stuffing back into eggs. Hollandaise and its derivatives are a natural for herbs. Bearnaise sauce combines the flavors of tarragon-infused vinegar and shallots with eggs and butter for a memorable meat sauce. Other herbs can replace tarragon as the need arises.
Meats – Adding herbs to meat before grilling or roasting is a wonderful way to infuse flavor into the meat, especially if you get it under the surface. Cut slits and force garlic, rosemary, sage, dill, bay leaf, mint, coriander, etc. under the skin of pork, beef, lamb, chicken, fish, whatever. Marinade meats in your vinaigrettes, adding wine to the vinegar to compliment sauces. For grilling, consider using a few sprigs of rosemary tied together to baste the meat with the marinade during the cooking process. Used over and over, it really does impart flavor into the meat. Meatloaves need all the flavor help they can get, and herbs can help them along.
Scarborough Chicken – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, and Garlic, rubbed into, around, and under the skin of a chicken produces a marvelous flavor. Add an onion and a couple of carrots to the cavity and enjoy roasted herbed vegetables too!
Starches – From rice pilaf baked with vegetables, herbs, nuts, and other flavors; baked squashes with herbs and spices on top; mashed potatoes with any number of herbs; and sage bread stuffing for the turkey; to pots of navy bean soup with oregano and black beans and rice with bay leaves and cilantro, herbs are natural compliments to all kinds of starch. Sprinkle them on top before baking, mix in afterwards, or use as sprinkled edible garnish just before serving. Bake herbs and seeds into bread and biscuits, muffins and even cookies (lavender shortbread is great!).
Vegetables – Really, herbs are vegetables of the leafy green variety. With a little experimentation, you can learn to pair them naturally with all kinds of vegetables from the starchy tubers and gourds to leafy greens served cooked or in salads. Add fresh herbs to your salads for amazing depth of flavor. Stay away from rosemary as it isn’t really suited for salads, but most other fresh herbs including some you might not try elsewhere like borage and verbena are great salad herbs. Edible flowers are also great in salads, but make sure you get organically grown petals with no pesticides.
Drinks – In addition to using herbs in cooking or making a pot of tea, you can garnish drinks with herbs such as a Bloody Mary, traditionally served with a celery stalk. Substitute or add a sprig of fresh basil, or borage.
Traditional mint juleps are made by mashing fresh mint, sugar and ice in a glass, adding a shot of bourbon and topping with cold water. Try it with different flavored mints, with or without the alcohol.
Syrups or jalabs can be made with herbs for use anytime. Make a simple syrup of sugar and water (or slightly diluted honey) and steep mint (or lemon balm, tamarind, rose, violet or others) in it. Cook the syrup down for an hour or so to reduce by ½ or so. Add to cold water and a splash of good vinegar for a very refreshing drink (especially the mint), or add to hot water for a soothing cup.
Speaking of alcohol, it works very well to extract the essential oils which are the flavoring elements in plant materials. Use an inexpensive vodka to steep many herbal flavors such as coffee beans, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, honey, and others to make interesting liqueurs. Russians drink vodkas steeped with peppercorns, lemon peel, even wasabi, served very cold. In Germany, Maywine is traditionally a white spring wine like Moselle steeped with sweet woodruff leaves for a few weeks. Even Jagermeister is an herbal liqueur that originally started out as cough medicine!
The key here is to try new things at your own pace. Don’t try too many new flavors at once, you will confuse yourself, your family, and your tastebuds. Be creative in the ways you choose to utilize herbs and seasonings, looking for new ways to branch out.
Try cookies with lavender, lemonade with lemon balm, pork roast with rosemary, hollandaise with tarragon, salad dressing with thyme, rice with saffron, squash with vanilla pod seeds, sweet potatoes with ginger, fish with fresh dill, etc., etc., etc. ……Make your own taco seasoning with cumin, coriander, garlic, chili, paprika. Create your own curries, oriental seasonings, and salt-free blends (which are great for gifts, once you’ve gotten them perfected). Steep your own vinegars, make up flavorful marinades, enhance alcoholic beverages. Create simple flavored salt or sugar by burying herbs in sealed containers with either one (vanilla pods or lavender in sugar, fines herbes in salt, etc.) Heck, go out and find a sprig of something fresh and walk around chewing on it for a while. It will do your mood a world of good.
Be brave, start simply, and a wide world of flavors that open up for you and your lucky audience!
Read Part 1 here: Herbs In Cooking