TODAY'S MAIN INGREDIENT - PODCAST
HerbsSeptember 11, 2021
Today’s Main Ingredient is herbs!
Our host Mikki Uzupes talks tasty herbs with Gudrun Feigl, owner/operator of Mount Pleasant Herbary in Maude Alley, on Main Street in Honesdale PA, and chef Marcia Dunsmore from the Myrtle Avenue Bakeshop in Hawley. Nutritionist Carol Kneier discusses the benefits of using culinary herbs to add flavors without the salt and sodium, plus some of the medicinal properties.
Be sure to scroll down for this week’s podcast extras at the bottom of the page.
Thyme, oregano and rosemary
Herbs generally refers to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), while spices are usually dried and produced from other parts of the plant, including seeds, bark, roots, and fruits. Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and in some cases, spiritual.
Herbs add fragrance and texture to vegetable plots, flower gardens, window boxes, hanging baskets, and containers. They are easy to grow indoors or out and generally require minimal attention and little space.
Herbs can be annuals, perennials, or biennials.
• Perennials include bay leaves, chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and tarragon.
• Annuals include basil, chervil, cilantro, dill, summer savory.
• Biennial herbs include parsley. (Biennial herbs require two years to complete their whole life cycle. They produce leaves in the first season and flowers in the second, then die.)
Herbs are forgiving plants and will grow in less-than-ideal conditions.
Planting: Most herbs grow best with at least six hours of sun a day. Sun-loving herbs include basil, fennel, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme and tarragon. Herbs that prefer partial sun include chives, cilantro, dill and mint.
When planting, give perennial herbs plenty of room to grow and fill out. Crowded plants compete with each other for nutrients and water and can be difficult to harvest. Air circulation is important for healthy growth, especially during humid weather.
If planting in containers, check growing information on seed packets or nursery tags for each herb’s needs for sunlight, water, and soil preferences. For example, rosemary likes it hot and dry while parsley needs steady moisture—so you’ll want to grow these in separate containers.
Watering: The types of leaves will help guide you on the amount of water needed. Herbs with soft succulent leaves like basil, chives, dill, mint, and parsley like steady moisture. Those with smaller, firmer leaves such as marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and tarragon like to dry out between watering. Drainage is important; many herbs do not like wet feet.
Mulching: Use organic mulch on all herbs to conserve moisture. For Mediterranean herbs that like sunny, dry conditions (oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and tarragon), mulch with white gravel to provide drainage and reflect the light.
Fertilizing: Herbs don’t require much fertilizer. In fact, heavy doses of nitrogen fertilizer will reduce the concentration of essential oils and degrade the flavor. The soil does not have to be overly fertile. In fact, if herbs are over-fertilized, they tend to be less flavorful.
Pruning: Herbs, and especially basil, respond well to regular pruning. In a process called “tipping,” pinch off the top inch or so of new growth. This will encourage the branch to grow outwards in two directions at the break to sprout new growth, and continue to grow bushier and more productive.
Dividing: Several perennial herbs will benefit from division including tarragon, oregano, chives, lovage, mints, lavender, and thyme. Divide in early spring or fall when the plant becomes too large or the center dies, usually every two to four years. Use a shovel to cut the plant into sections taking as much root as possible. Replant sections in new locations.
• The rule of thumb is the more you pick, the more will grow; pinching back herbs will make them full and bushy.
• Pick at peak flavor when buds are just beginning to form but before they have flowered.
• Cut early in the morning just after the dew has dried rather than in the drying afternoon sun.
Drying Fresh Herbs
• Drying is the oldest and easiest method of preserving fresh herbs, while the modern method is freezing them.
• Herbs suitable for drying include bay, thyme, marjoram & rosemary; fragile herbs do not dry well.
• Choose a warm, dry, well-ventilated place to dry herbs. Avoid direct sunlight as it bleaches their color and diminishes their flavor.
• Tie herbs in bunches by their stems and hang them upside down. After about a week, when they are completely dry, leave them in sprigs or store in airtight containers.
Choices: Which herbs to plant & grow?
There are so many flavors and varieties of herbs that selecting which ones to grow can be somewhat overwhelming. A good starting point is to grow herbs whose flavors you like and use in your favorite recipes, those whose aroma is appealing, whose foliage or flowers are beautiful.
Consider choosing a theme or focus for your herb garden.
Focus on a food culture’s flavor profile:
• Asian: cilantro, Thai basil, Japanese parsley, and lemongrass.
• French: Fine herbes are a traditional blend of parsley, chive, chervil, and tarragon. Herbes de Provence, another classic blend used in Southern France, includes basil, marjoram, rosemary, summery savory, thyme, lavender flowers, and bay leaf
• German: chives, dill, marjoram, parsley, and thyme
• Greek: basil, dill, fennel leaves, marjoram, and mint
• Italian: basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and fennel leaves are the iconic flavors of Italy
• Mexican: basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, savory, and thyme
Focus on useful herb combinations:
• Classic culinary herbs: basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme
• Grilling: fennel leaves, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme
• Vinaigrettes: chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme
• Marinades: chives, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme
Two Kinds of Culinary Herbs
• To store fresh herbs with short stems, put them in an unsealed plastic bag or wrap them in a moist paper town and refrigerate them. They should keep for about a week.
• Herbs with longer stems can be treated like cut flowers: put them in a small container of water and leave them at room temperature, or refrigerate them covered with a loose plastic bag.
• Herbs with their roots intact are best of all: wrap the roots in a damp paper towel, cover with a plastic bag, leaving the leaves outside, and then refrigerate.
• Wash fresh herbs when ready to use them.
Raw: The taste of any herb is most characteristic when it is uncooked.
• Puree raw herbs for the base of various green sauces.
• Chop raw herbs to feature in cold sauces.
• Use whole leaves in salads and as a decoration.
• When herbs that are ground in a mortar and pestle or food processor their oils are released, intensifying their flavor, as in pesto sauce.
Cooked: Not all herbs behave the same way when cooking.
• While fragile herbs rapidly lose their flavor during cooking, more robust herbs benefit from lengthy cooking since their flavors infuse the dish more slowly.
• Stems may be included for extra flavor in a cooked dish and discarded before serving.
• Chopping bruises the leaves of more fragile herbs but has little effect on robust ones.
Fresh vs. Dried Herbs
Because dried herbs are often more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, you need less than if you’re cooking with fresh herbs. The general rule of thumb for substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs is the following ratio: one tablespoon of fresh herbs to one teaspoon of dried herbs.
1/4 cup loosely packed mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, chives & oregano
8 ounces feta cheese
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound yellow patty-pan squash
8 ounces green beans
1 pound ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh dill
Salt and pepper
Step 1 – Mince the mixed herbs. See this video on how to chop and mince fresh herbs, courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America.
Step 2 – Crumble feta cheese into a small bowl, drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, and stir in the mixed herbs until thoroughly incorporated.
Step 3 – Heat the remaining Tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the squash and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
Step 4 – Add the beans and toss to mix. Cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to turn vivid green, 3 to 5 minutes.
Step 5 – Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly until the squash is translucent, the beans are bright green and crisp-tender, and the tomatoes have softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Step 6 – Season with salt and generously with pepper. Mince the dill and add to the vegetables, mixing well so it is evenly distributed. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter and distribute the seasoned feta cheese on top. Serve immediately.
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped basil
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped chives
1 Tablespoon thinly sliced scallion
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
A dash of hot pepper sauce (optional)
Feel free to substitute any of the following herbs for those listed above: basil, dill, and/or mint.
Preparation – Process all ingredients in a food processor or a blender.
Store excess in a covered bowl or bottle in the refrigerator.
Some great growing and cooking tips:
Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:
Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.
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