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Around the Mediterranean countries, herbs grow on roadsides and people pick them free to flavour their stews, grilled or roasted meats. Practically no one ever thinks of using dried herbs. Each season has its own herb(s), and seemingly, nature times their availability to seasonal seafood and meat. Nature likes orderly things. Everything follows a logical path and nothing is ever wasted.
Herbs add complexity, an element of freshens, colour, and excitement, if used with a sense towards flavour compatibility.
Wild herbs offer the most intense flavours. Those cultivated and grown out-of-doors are fine, but hothouse specimens are too mild to make an appreciable difference.
Herbs are easy to grow. You can plant a few in your garden and see how they thrive. Parsley and chives survive even the harshest winters. Hypocrates, considered the originator of medicinal literature, believed and thought that the strength to cure disease is often in the fields and forests in form of herbs, barks, spices and flowers.
Mandrake has antiseptic properties, wasabi is an antiseptic, and parsley a diuretic. Ginger is known for its antiseptic properties, and cranberries good for urinary tract infections.
Always choose fresh garden-grown herbs and look for clean, crisp, vibrant bunches. Use a sharp knife to cut, otherwise herbs are crushed and fail to release their aromas.
When cooking add fresh herbs during the last 10 – 20 minutes to preserve their bright and enticing flavours. Always buy the smallest quantity of fresh herbs possible; treat them as flowers and use them as soon as practical.
Basil – excellent in salads, in tomato sauces and sliced tomatoes. Genovese basil is best for pesto, fish dishes and as a garnish.
Chives- are excellent in omelettes, scrambled eggs, sauces and salads.
Chervil ( a.k.a.) flat leaf parsley of Italian is integral in “fine herbs”. It goes practically with everything.
French tarragon – goes best with chicken. It must not be confused with the coarse Russian tarragon. Must be used in Sauce Béarnaise and employed as a flavouring in red wine vinegar.
Sorrel – can be cooked as spinach and in cream sauces to accompany fish dishes.
Oregano- this piquant and spicy tasting herb is best used in sauces. Spanish, and Mexican cooks use oregano in many of their specialties. It adds special flavours to lamb and beef stews, roast chicken, grilled lamb and pork chops.
Lemon balm - often used in salads in the Middle East, it makes fine stuffing for lamb and pork.
Mint- has over 2000 varieties and often used instead of tea in Morocco and other Mediterranean countries. It enhances sautéed carrots, lamb, new potatoes sautéed in butter and may be used in cocktails
Rosemary – is the most fragrant of herbs and best with roast potatoes, egg dishes and cheeses.
Sage – is often used in Italian specialties and particularly with pork dishes. Can be fried and used as a garnish for a variety of dishes.
Thyme – spreading perennial thyme is excellent in vegetable and meat stews. Thyme flavours lamb particularly well.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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