Using Herbs To Spice Up Your Cooking

When you're buying fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year, don't forget to pick up some fresh herbs as well.

They're wonderful in salads and pastas, but that's not all! There are lots of creative ways to put these flavors to work, adding flavor all along the way, as cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie explained in The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School" on Tuesday.

Ritchie held class in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

Fresh herbs can, indeed, take a starring role on any table.

But first, you have to know how to store them.

Most people bring herbs home from the store or market and stuff them in a plastic bag and into a drawer in the fridge. Leafy herbs such as parsley, mint and basil will last much longer if you trim the ends, place them in a glass of water and put the glass in the fridge. Ritchie likes to go one step further and loosely place a plastic bag over the glass and herbs. You can keep herbs fresh and edible for as long as a week if you use this method.

Terminology

Agua Fresca


Many people are familiar with the idea of using fresh mint in a mojito, but it's also great in this non-alcoholic Latin drink. Aqua fresca is a fruit puree mixed with sparkling water. Puree honeydew in a blender, pour it into a bowl and combine it with lemon, sugar and mint. Allow the mixture to sit for 1-4 hours so the flavors can blend. Then strain and mix with sparkling water. Serve immediately.

The key to really releasing the essence of the mint is to crush it in your fingers before adding it to the mixture. That enables the herb to release its essential oils. Any time you use fresh herbs, crush or chop them immediately before using, not ahead of time. The second you break them, they begin to release and lose their flavorful oils.

Chimichurri

This is one of Ritchie's favorite herb sauces for outdoor grilling. It's a traditional Argentinean sauce and is served over grilled steak, but is also good with lamb and pork.

One recipe calls for a mixture of chopped parsley and cilantro, garlic, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and olive oil. You simply whisk them together. The taste intensifies if you allow the mixture to stand before serving.

When a recipe includes chopped herbs such as parsley or cilantro, many people spend time picking the leaves off the stems for chopping. Ritchie says that's not necessary; she typically holds a bunch of herbs and chops off the tops to include as little of the stems as possible.

Kiwifruit Salad

Here, Ritchie adds a subtle flavor to fruit salad by infusing simple syrup with rosemary. She combines sugar and water and brings the liquid to a boil. She then turns down the heat and adds a large sprig of rosemary, cooking until the liquid is reduced. The rosemary-infused syrup is poured over a fruit salad of kiwi, apples and grapes. That may sound unusual, but Ritchie says some of the woody herbs like rosemary and thyme blend surprisingly well with sweets, bringing a nice fresh undertone to the dish.

RECIPES

HONEYDEW AND MINT AGUA FRESCA


(serves 10-12)

INGREDIENTS:
2 honeydew melons, about 12 lbs. total weight
Juice of 4 lemons
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup crushed fresh mint leaves
3 cups sparkling water, chilled
3 lemons, thinly sliced
Ice cubes
10-12 fresh mint sprigs for garnish

METHOD:
Cut the honeydew melons in half; remove and discard the seeds. Using a metal spoon, scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Working in batches, puree the honeydew melon in a blender or food processor. As each batch is finished, transfer it to another large bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and mint leaves to the puree and stir to combine until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours to blend the flavors.

When ready to serve, pour the melon mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a large pitcher or jar. Add the sparkling water, lemon slices, and ice and stir well. Pour or ladle into glasses and garnish with a mint sprig.

CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

A savory condiment ubiquitous to the cuisine of Argentina, chimichurri packs a flavorful punch. It's found on virtually every Argentine dining table, where its culinary role is similar to that of ketchup in the United States. There are many versions of chimichurri, but the primary ingredients are always fresh herbs, spicy chili, oil and vinegar, with a texture ranging from smooth to salsa-like. This piquant sauce is delicious paired with grilled steak.

3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a bowl, whisk together the parsley, cilantro, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Use the sauce immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1 cup.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

KIWIFRUIT, APPLE & GRAPE SALAD WITH ROSEMARY SYRUP

(4 servings)

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup sugar
Three 6-inch stems rosemary
3 kiwifruits, peeled and diced
2 unpeeled tart green apples such as Granny Smith, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup seedless green grapes

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add rosemary stems, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove rosemary and raise heat to high. Cook, stirring, until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup. Let cool to room temperature.

Put diced kiwis, diced apples, and grapes in a bowl and pour syrup over, tossing to coat fruit. Serve at once.
  • Brian Dakss

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