Cooking with fresh herbs

Q: I have a wonderful new herb garden with many varieties of herbs. I would like to find recipes that use a variety of fresh herbs. Do you have any ideas?

A: You are blessed with access to palette of fresh flavors that bring a refreshing intensity to any dish you cook. Whether you pick your own flavor explosion from the garden or reach through the waterfall mist of your produce counter to capture the fresh essence of culinary herbs, your cooking will rise to a new level.

Fresh herbs are just as easy to use as dried herbs. I like to measure three to four times more fresh herbs than the amount of dried herbs required by a recipe. The fresh herb flavor notes are more intense, while the overall taste effect is more subtle. I try to wait until the last minutes of cooking to add fresh herbs. The flavor components of fresh herbs tend to build their intensity in a crescendo, but then slowly fade as they continue to cook.

Fresh herbs are multitalented. Not only can they flavor a dish, but they can lift your spirits or calm your mood. The first time I indulged in an aromatherapy massage, the aromas of the massage oil lifted my mood — just like the fresh herbs on my kitchen cutting board. Turns out, two of the primary aromatics were thyme and rosemary…two of my favorite culinary herbs. My next adventure into the fascinating world of herbal stimulation might be a fresh herbal bodywrap. Sounds invigorating. In the meantime, try these easy tips for cooking with fresh herbs.

Frenchified Vegetables

French chefs always top their vegetable side-dishes with a slice of chilled herb butter. You can do the same with a low-fat, tasty spread — Brummel & Brown Spread Made With Yogurt. Chop 1/4 cup of fresh tarragon leaves and snip 1/4 cup of fresh dill. Combine Brummel & Brown Spread and the fresh herbs in a small mixing bowl. Using a spatula, fold the herbs into the spread, until evenly distributed. Cut off an 18-inch piece of wax paper and lay it flat. Use the spatula to drop five equal dollops of herb “butter” down the center of the wax paper, the long way. Leave four inches on each end. Carefully roll the wax paper over the herb “butter,” forming a 10-inch long cylinder, wrapped in wax paper. Twist the ends tight and place in the freezer to harden. Once you’ve cooked fresh or frozen vegetables for dinner, cut a 1/4 inch slice of herb “butter” and toss with the hot vegetables…instant flavor, instant sauce. Reroll the wax paper, twist the ends and store in the freezer.

Salad Flavor-Riot

Carefully, remove fresh basil leaves from their stems. Stack the leaves and roll them into a tight bundle. With a sharp, straightedge knife, cut the bundle into thin slices (approx. 1/8 inch), creating a nest of fine basil leaf threads. French chefs call the result chiffonnade of basil. Weave these threads of flavor through your bowl of mixed salad greens for an explosion of flavor.

Fresh-Brewed Voo-Dew

Create your own signature herbal tonic with your automatic coffee brewer. Coarsely chop 1/2 cup each of fresh thyme sprigs, peppermint sprigs and fresh French tarragon. Toss the herbs to mix. Pack the fresh herb mixture firmly into a filter-lined coffee brewing basket. Add a few slices of fresh gingerroot. And, if you can get some, a heaping teaspoon of chopped fresh lemongrass (found in Asian food stores). Fill the reservoir with spring water and hit the brew button. A dipper of your favorite honey turns this brew into a magic potion.

Makeover-In-A-Bottle

Purchase a small bottle of your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing. (Mine is Seven Seas Red Wine Vinaigrette Dressing.) Remove the squirt hole from the mouth of the bottle. Pour the dressing into a blender. Add 1/4 cup of freshly stripped oregano and thyme leaves to the blender. Whiz the blender, no more than 20 seconds. Pour the brand new herbal vinaigrette back into the bottle. For extra pizzazz, flip in a peeled fresh garlic clove. Be sure to refrigerate the results and it will keep in its revitalized state for up to two weeks.

Enjoy your fresh herb garden!

What you have in your mind?