Preserving The Best Herbs Of Summer

I know it’s hard to think about Fall and Winter meals these days. Pools are still open, the humidity and heat are still kicking here in DC and the school year is only just starting for the little ones. Who wants to think about not having those fresh herbs on hand any time you want them?

But now is the best time to think about what you wont have on hand during the colder months, when you’ll want a hearty stew, aromatic soup or flavorful root vegetables. In August, your garden may be a little out of control. Everything’s growing like gang busters, so you’ll have plenty of extra herbs on hand to preserve for later use. And you’ll thank yourself later.

What are the best methods? How do you save the most flavor for your future dishes?

Drying

We’re all familiar with dried herbs. If you’re like me, your spice cabinet is a crazy mess of miscellaneous herbs, bought for that one recipe years ago, or when you couldn’t find the fresh version in cold winter. It’s a lot cheaper and very easy to dry out your own using one of the following methods.

Air Drying. This method has been used for centuries. It’s simple and requires no energy, just a few weeks of patience. Start by removing any dirt from your garden. You can rinse the herbs, however be sure to thoroughly dry them after to prevent any mold from forming. gather the herbs together and tie the stems with twine or string. Hang upside down in a warm, dry, ventilated area, away from sunlight. Allow to dry until the leaves start to crumble, about 1 to 4 weeks. Store in an airtight container up to one year.

Oven Drying. If you don’t want to wait and you don’t mind using a bit of energy, your oven can be a great way to dry out herbs, especially for those of us who live with humidity. Heat your oven to 150 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the herbs on top. Place into oven, leaving the door slightly ajar. Check the herbs frequently, removing when crumbly. This can take 1 to 4 hours. Store in an airtight container up to one year.

Freezing

If you’re looking for as close to fresh as preservation can get, freezing is your best option. There are several methods out there – blanching the herbs first, freezing in oil, using ice cube trays or freezing flat in a zippered bag. Thankfully the Serious Eats folks did a lot of legwork to find the best method, even using the frozen herbs in a sauce to see what it truly tasted like.

Their conclusion? Freeze in a little bit of neutral oil, like a like olive oil, and freeze flat. The oil takes less time to melt into a sauce, so the herbs get incorporated faster. And by freezing them flat, rather than an ice cube tray, you get more surface area making them freeze and melt faster.

Chop up fresh herbs and add in a little oil. If you have a lot of herbs, use a food processor to do this for you! Place the herbs into a zippered freezer bag and seal, leaving about a half an inch of open space at the top. Squeeze out any excess air and then fully seal the bag. Place the bag on a plate or baking sheet, basically any flat surface to freeze to keep the herbs about the same amount across the contents of the bag. Spread the mixture out into a thin, even layer. The herbs will freeze fast. When ready to use, simply open and, using a knife or shears, cut off the amount you need, then re-seal and place back into the freezer.

Compound Butter

In my opinion, the yummiest way to preserve your herbs is by making a compound butter. You can add just about any mixture of herbs to a good quality butter, roll into a log, wrap and freeze. Cut off slices throughout the fall and winter as you need to add some great flavor to anything from pan fried squash to steaks. Try one made with thyme, sage and oregano to stuff under the skin of your Thanksgiving turkey or mixed into your mashed potatoes.

Simply take about 1/2 cup, or 1 stick, of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup of any herb or mixture of herbs you like. Blend them together until completely mixed. Press the butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap into a log shape. Fold the short ends of the plastic wrap in, then tightly roll up the butter in the plastic wrap lengthwise. Roll the wrapped butter back and forth on the counter to create a smooth, round log. Wrap in aluminum foil and/or a freezer bag, labeling with the date. Use within 2 to 3 months.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Dear Diary

Chim Chim Cher-ee … I Mean, Chimichurri

Chim Chim Cher-ee

Chimichurri. It’s a word I can barely pronounce, let alone spell. But, oh Eaters, do I thank my lucky stars the day I was first introduced to this luscious Argentinian sauce.

It’s easy to make. It is easy to swap ingredients. It easily goes on just about any dish, from topping a grilled skirt steak, to an egg breakfast burrito. Or marinate chicken and pork in it. Or dip chips in it. Or toss fresh veggies in it to roast or grill. I love this stuff.

Since we are talking about how to get more fresh herbs in your diet, this was one of two recipes that are fresh herb-chocked staples in my kitchen that I had to pull out. (Don’t worry — I’ll be back again next week to talk about this other nut and herb topping you can throw on fish, or chicken, or whatever…)

The recipe I use from Allrecipes.com includes loads of fresh parsley and oregano. Parsley is full of vitamins A, B6, B12, K, C and E, as well as plenty of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. This is not an inclusive list. The point is, Parsley is really, really good for you. It can help control cancer and diabetes. It is a great way to relieve gastrointestinal issues. And all that zinc aids in bolstering the immune system.

Then there’s the oregano, which also has cancer-fighting effects and is an antioxidant that helps support your immune system. Plus, it has antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities. Or you can just use it to fight upper respiratory infections.

As if that were not enough, I added  cilantro to my version. Because I like cilantro. A lot, actually. And for good reason: It contains a bunch of dietary fiber, which may help to reduce LDL, commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”, levels in the blood. Oh yeah, and it also cleanses the body of toxic metals. So there’s that.

Our point this month is really that herbs don’t need to just be the garnish on your dish. They can be the foundation for making the dish really sing. The pièce de résistance, as this chimichurri recipe really, truly is.

Roasted Red Pepper Chimichurri

INGREDIENTS:

Salmuera:
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup warm water

Sauce:
1 bunch Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
8 large cloves garlic
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (light in flavor)
1 cup roasted red peppers (packed in water)
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
4 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
½ cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

METHOD:

Make salmuera by dissolve the kosher salt in warm water and set aside to cool. and warm water until the salt dissolves, set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Carefully clean all herbs. I find this is easiest by dunking upside down in cold water, changing water until no grit is left in the bowl. Allow to dry fully on paper towels.

Remove most of the stems from the parsley and cilantro. I use the tops from where the leaves begin on the stem and discard the rest. Pulse these with garlic and olive oil in a food processor until chopped.

Drain, roughly chop and add the roasted red peppers along with the paprika, oregano leaves (remove all stems), crushed red pepper, black pepper, cumin, white vinegar and red wine vinegar. Continue to pulse the food processor until the ingredients are combined, but remain slightly chunky.

Scrape the sauce into a large mixing bowl. Stir in about ¼ to ½ cup of the cooled salmuera. Continue to add until the sauce is smooth, but not runny. I used about ½ cup total. It may taste salty at first, but it will mellow.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Chimichurri sauce can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for two weeks.

Save

Save

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Dear Diary

Culinary Herbs & Your Health

We The Eaters offers a big, delicious welcome to Elizabeth Fellows, an Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner based in the greater Washington, D.C. area. She founded Center Point Healing, a wellness center in 2006. Read more about Elizabeth below.

In Chinese Medicine Five-Element Theory, this time of year is sometimes referred to as late summer. In the mid-Atlantic, it’s a season of hot and humid weather. Late July and into August, my patients often start coming in expressing that they feel lethargic, their digestion is sluggish, their appetite is reduced and they don’t feel motivated to do anything. That’s because the predominant environmental force is dampness. We can feel the damp outside in the sticky, humid days… and the way we feel it inside our bodies manifests as that feeling of sluggishness and lack of motivation.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can certainly help you to move through this damp season with more ease. There are a few, simple dietary changes that can also be helpful. Incorporate these into your diet to enliven your Qi and blood and help you to feel more energetic.

Culinary herbs have strong flavors because of the active constituents they contain. Those active compounds usually have medicinal qualities. People have turned to herbs for centuries to aid digestion and treat many medical conditions. Chinese herbal medicine is just one of the systems that uses both medicinal and culinary herbs to support health.

In Chinese medical dietary theory, we use the five flavors to balance the system. The bitter taste counteracts dampness, so in this damp, sticky season, we want to get some bitter tastes into our diet on a daily basis, like chamomile, peppermint and dandelion. (On a side note, have you see the We The Eaters article on bitter greens?)

Bitter is a perfect counterpoint to the sweet foods that are starting to come into season now in the form of corn, melon and squashes. Warming herbs, including fresh ginger and garlic, are helpful to promote Qi circulation. In hot weather, you want to use the warming herbs with foods sparingly. For example, try drinking the digestive tonic below after a meal.

Herbs that are especially helpful for cutting through the damp are caraway, dill, basil, thyme and, again,  garlic. A wonderful salad you can make on a hot, humid day when you are feeling lethargic and overheated would incorporate parsley as your greens instead of lettuce. Add tomatoes and cucumber, with a garlicky olive oil dressing. The bitter flavor of the parsley and garlic help resolve dampness, while the tomato is sweet and cooling, and the cucumber both moistens and cools.

A wonderful digestive tonic can be made from the seeds of anise, caraway and fennel. Using a cloth tea bag or a tea strainer, put 1 teaspoon of each seed and steep in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This tea is great to drink after a meal to reduce indigestion. Although these spices are warming, they do help alleviate dampness and can help with bloating as well.

If we pay attention to what is happening in nature, we can get a lot of helpful information about health and wellness. Eating what is in season locally is a great way to do that. I encourage you to visit your local farmer’s market each week to see what foods are available, and to use those fruits, vegetables and herbs as a base for your weekly meals.

 

Meet Elizabeth Fellows

Elizabeth Fellows received her Masters of Acupuncture and a post-baccalaureate certificate in Chinese herbal medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health, formerly known as Tai Sophia Institute. She has also earned a certificate as a holistic health counselor form the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

“I believe that when someone pursues their passion, they inspire others,” Elizabeth said of following this dream. “I know that I am right where I’m supposed to be, and that I have been blessed to be a vessel for healing. I do not attach any ego to that—it isn’t me personally creating the healing. I’m very clear that I facilitate the healing by establishing a rapport with my patients and being deeply interested in bearing witness to their lives and experiences.”

Since opening the practice in August 2006, Elizabeth has provided nearly 25,000 treatments to hundreds of patients and credits her success, in large part, to patient satisfaction. She describes the three pillars of the business as providing top-notch care, customer service and treating each patient with compassion and respect.

Looking back over the last ten years, Elizabeth reflects on her success.

“My greatest achievement is not one moment,” she said. “It is the accumulation of all of those moments of being with my patients through tears and laughter, deaths and births, cancer diagnoses and miraculous healings, and to feel that connection with each of them in each of those moments. My patients have taught me so much about being peaceful with whatever life happens to throw at me.”

Save

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Dear Diary
photo credit to Aaron Otis Photography 2014


July
Watermelon is the perfect summer food. It hydrates, it cools, it's sweet and juicy. We have some great ideas for your table, including a salad, ceviche cups, popsicles and cocktails. Get ready to beat the heat with us!

 
Twitter: wetheeaters