Friday, December 12, 2008

Keep It Simple - Using Fresh Herbs

Thyme, Sage and Dill

I read a lot about food. I used to watch a lot of TV about food. I really enjoy learning about different cooking techniques and ingredients. I can not tell you how many articles and shows are about using fresh herbs. They almost become boring because there are so many herbs that go with this or that. I often end up skimming over these articles out of pure information overload.

I am currently growing about 33 different herbs. So I feel that I should do a posting on them. I have been thinking about it all week, yet have been hindered in just how to approach the subject, once again information overload. Maybe that is why so many cooks decide not to use fresh herbs. Where to start? What goes with what? It is generally easier than one would think.

When I began to learn to cook from my Dad, he told me 2 main concepts of good cooking. Keep your heat down and keep it simple. When I began cooking with dried herbs I would put everything under the sun into one dish. Dad would give me a quick curse
Lemon Balm
and walk away disgusted. I finally got disgusted too and learned to pick one or two. The results were far superior.

Fresh herbs were another wondrous discovery all together. They add such a lively, colorful and fresh addition to a dish. They help bring out the character of your main ingredient.

Let's apply my Dad's two important principles when using fresh herbs. Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking to retain their fresh flavors and color (low heat). Generally, don't use too many different herbs in the same dish; you want the herbs to meld with the flavors of your main ingredient, not overpower it, or cause the herbs to mask one another's flavors.

One has to try different herbs to find their favorite combination. If you need ideas of what goes with what, you can use Fine Cooking's Guide to Fresh Herbs. I suggest to pick out two or three to try out for something fresh and new. For example: Cilantro and Lemon Grass for chicken, Sage and Thyme for pork, or Dill and Parsley for fish.

Dilly Home Fries

Serves 2-3

2-3 Large Potatoes - peeled or just washed
2-3 T. cooking oil
1 large Onion - diced
1 large Red or Yellow Bell Pepper - diced
1 Hot Pepper - optional - minced
Salt & Pepper
1 loose handful of Fresh Dill- roughly chopped

Bring a big pot of water to boil that has some salt thrown in for flavor. Dice the potatoes into a 1/2 to 3/4 inch dice. Boil potatoes until just tender. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool a little, at least 5 minutes. This lets some of the excess water not only drain but evaporate in the steam to dry the potatoes for better browning later.
Meanwhile, heat up oil in a large fry pan. Add onion, bell pepper, hot pepper if using and pepper to taste (only add salt later on if needed, there was salt in the potato water). Fry on medium heat until everything is slightly browned 7-10 minutes.

Add Potatoes to mixture and fry, turning frequently until potatoes have browned and crisped. Turn off heat, add Dill and toss. Taste for seasonings. Serve immediately, maybe top with salsa, a spoonful of sour cream, a fried egg or avocado.

Rosemary Marinated Skirt Steak with Herb Salsa

The following recipe uses 4 herbs together to create a harmonious and zesty salsa.

To prep the Steak

3 or 4 Skirt Steaks, about 3 pounds
Garlic, minced as much as you like, I use about a bulb
2-3 heaping T. of chopped Fresh Rosemary or Rosemary and Thyme mix
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

Pound out the meat so that it will grill evenly and quickly. Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Pour over steak and rub in to cover all of the meat. Marinate for as long as you can, up to two days.

Herb Salsa

1/2 cup Fresh Parsley
1/2 cup Fresh Basil
1/2 cup Cilantro
1/2 cup Arugula - optional
1/4 cup nuts- almonds, walnuts and/or pine nuts
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 hot pepper, more or less
1 T. of white wine vinegar or squeeze of 1/2 lemon.
3/4 cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Blend all ingredients except the Olive Oil and Salt and Pepper in a blender or food processor, which is easier. Slowly pour in Oil and continue blending until smooth paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Grill steak over high heat until done to you liking. Top with Herb Salsa.

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