Nourishing plants can have a profound effect on our health when incorporated into our diet. By bringing herbs into the kitchen, we can enjoy their flavors and reap their benefits. The Healing Kitchen (Roost Books, 2016), by Holly Bellebuono, contains over 140 health-infused recipes intended to calm stress ease digestion, build immunity, promote overall wellness, and longevity. Bellebuono is an award-winning herbalist and has been handcrafting herbal remedies in the form of salves tinctures, and teas for over eighteen years.
I’ve always been enamored of small saltcellars packed with colorful and mysterious dried herbs and spices that are crushed together with coarse sea salt. Harvested from the sea, this salt is rich in minerals, and its depth of flavor complements a variety of herbal flavors. Combining herbs and salt is an imaginative way to create seasonings in the kitchen, and I was thrilled to find the work of Juliet Blankespoor, the author and director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, who is doing exactly that. Says Juliet:
Herb-infused finishing salts are a delightful alchemy between earth and sea, plant and mineral... Surprisingly easy to conjure up and beautiful to behold, herbal salts provide an easy way to preserve excess fresh culinary herbs. They are called “finishing salts” because they are added to a dish after it is prepared. However, many of these salt blends are perfect for adding to marinades and dressings. Or they can be rubbed on meats and seafood before roasting or panfrying. I enjoy finishing salts on popcorn, eggs, and to flavor goat cheese spreads.
You’ll need a food processor or coffee grinder, but other equipment is unnecessary. For Juliet’s recipes that follow, you’ll be combining fresh herbs with salt in roughly equal proportions and then drying the mixture, keeping in mind that the more fresh herbs you include, the longer the blend will take to dry. You can also use dried herbs instead of fresh: Juliet recommends using one-quarter the amount of herbs called for in the recipe; simply omit the drying step and store the blend in an airtight glass jar.
To achieve a spectrum of flavors, colors, and textures, experiment with different herbs and a variety of salts from around the world. You will be rewarded with a versatile and mineral-rich condiment full of lasting flavor.
Highlighting juniper berries and sage, this is a pungent blend that is especially good on chicken dishes, on roasted potatoes, and in stuffing. “You can also add it to olive oil and vinegar to create a flavorful salad dressing,” suggests Juliet, “or sprinkle it on sweet potato and black bean casseroles and burritos.” It’s also a great contrast to the sweetness of winter squash, and Juliet uses it as a bright garnish on squash bisque.
• 15 juniper berries
• 1/3 cup tightly packed fresh rosemary leaves (removed from stems)
• 1 teaspoon dried orange zest
• 3 tablespoons tightly packed whole sage leaves
• 1 cup coarse salt (pink Himalayan salt, black volcanic sea salt, and/or smoked sea salt)
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Mash the juniper berries with a mortar and pestle, or use the side of a chef’s knife to crush them against a cutting board. In a large bowl, combine the mashed juniper berries and the rest of the ingredients. Spread out the mixture on a serving tray or baking sheet and place in an area with good airflow. Allow the herbs to dry completely. Juliet suggests placing the trays on a table or countertop under a ceiling fan for 2 to 4 days. “The salt speeds up the drying process, simultaneously absorbing the flavor of the fresh herbs along with the moisture,” she says.
Alternatively, use the oven method for quick drying: Preheat your oven to its lowest setting. Spread out the mixture on a baking sheet, place it in the oven, and prop open the door slightly with a long-handled wooden spoon. Allow the mixture to gently heat for several hours, stirring frequently, until the herbs are dry and crisp. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the mixture to cool completely. Juliet warns that this method will allow some of the essential oils of the herbs to evaporate, thus decreasing their aroma and flavor, so favor the slow drying method if you have the time.
Once dried, store the blend in an airtight glass jar and grind as needed.
For more from The Healing Kitchen visit:
• Gomasio Seasoning Recipe
From The Healing Kitchen by Holly Bellebuono, © 2016 by Holly Bellebuono. Illustrations © 2016 by Vikki Chu. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com