Highly valued for their bold flavors and health-enhancing properties, culinary herbs are crucial elements of some of humanity’s most traditional recipes. Exploring these recipes can help us discover new ways to bring the flavor and health benefits of herbs into every meal. One of North America’s foremost herb-cooking experts, chef and author Jerry Traunfeld knows just how to make excellent use of homegrown herbs, and he shares his tips with us.
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• Cilantro and Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe
• Simple Summer Rolls Recipe
• Indian Poppy Chickpea Salad Recipe
• Young Carrots with French Tarragon Recipe
• Greek Chervil Avgolemono Recipe
• Herb Garden Lasagna Recipe
Chef and owner of Poppy and Lionhead restaurants in Seattle and the author of the award-winning cookbooks The Herbfarm Cookbook and The Herbal Kitchen, Jerry Traunfeld honed his innovative use of herbs and spices during his 17 years as executive chef at The Herbfarm Restaurant in Washington, where he garnered national acclaim and received the James Beard Award for Best American Chef (Northwest region). In The Herbal Kitchen, Traunfeld writes, “Herbs appear in most every dish I prepare for my nine-course restaurant menus, and they make their way from my backyard garden into much of the food I cook in my home kitchen. Like most home cooks, I search for fast and easy-to-prepare recipes that taste extraordinary. When I cook with fresh herbs, it’s easy to achieve amazing results with little effort.” Here he shares some advice to improve home cooking.
What tips can help home cooks make better use of herbs?
1. Use herbs freely. Yes, it is possible to overpower other ingredients if you add too much, but more often home cooks use herbs too sparingly.
2. If there’s any way you can grow your own, do it. Freshly cut herbs from your own garden always taste better.
3. Herbs have their seasons, too, and they pair naturally with foods that come into season at the same time. Tomatoes ripen when basil is at its peak. Stone fruits are in season when anise hyssop blooms, and they are magical together. Winter roots pair with the earthy flavors of herbs that stay in the garden as the temperature cools, such as rosemary, sage and thyme.
What’s one underused herb, and how should we use it?
Lovage is an underutilized herb that’s easy to grow and wonderful to cook with. Its celery flavor works with seafood, meats and vegetables. And its stems make the ultimate straws for Bloody Marys.
What mistakes do people make cooking with herbs?
1. Don’t make the mistake of being afraid of making mistakes. There are very few herb and food pairings that don’t work. Just trust your senses.
2. Don’t overchop fresh herbs. Fine
chopping bruises herbs and brings out their vegetal fragrance. Herbs keep more of their character and vibrant flavor if left in larger pieces.
3. Most herbs with soft leaves, such as basil and cilantro, should be added at the end of cooking so their essential oils remain in the dish. Herbs with coarse leaves—think rosemary and sage—can be added at any stage.
What about growing herbs? What mistakes can people avoid?
1. To grow well, herbs need good drainage and lots of sun. When people have trouble, it’s most often lack of one or the other.
2. Most herbs are easy to grow outside but challenging to grow inside. Don’t expect them to flourish on a windowsill without ideal conditions, which are rare indoors.
3. Most herbs are easiest to grow from potted starts, but cilantro, chervil and dill should be started from seed where they will grow. They don’t transplant well.
Why do you think herbs are used so heavily the world over?
I’m not a food historian, but I’m always fascinated at the role herbs play in world cuisines, and why certain ones are favored in particular parts of the world. Certainly some of it has to do with what is native; thyme and oregano grow wild around the Mediterranean and are integral to the flavors of the food from the region, but basil was not indigenous and yet became a backbone of Italian cuisine.
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