A Budget Smart Cook’s Secret Ingredient

admin / June 19, 2008

One of the things I love most about summer is that fresh herbs can be found just about everywhere, in the produce department of any supermarket, at farmer’s markets, and yes, your own backyard. And there are two great things about herbs. One they’re packed with flavor, so a little goes a long way. And two, they can make even the blandest of foods taste like gourmet fare.

Herbs Go with Just About Everything
You can add herbs to just about any dish, everything from sandwiches to pasta If you’re got a recipe you love but you’re growing tired of it, try adding some fresh herbs. One of my favorite ways to use herbs is to add ones like thyme, basil and oregano to homemade or even store bought mayonnaise. Just about any type of sandwich tastes better when you use an herbed mayonnaise as its base. And herbs like thyme and savory make stews, soups and casseroles taste like a gourmet chef put them together.

Other Uses for Herbs
And herbs can transform ordinary dishes into something special. Combine them with other ingredients and make recipes like a pesto sauce to top vegetables, potatoes, fish, or toss it with pasta for a really quick summer supper, or used as a sauce for pizza. And I’ve used herbs like basil to turn leftover vegetables and beans into a minestrone soup. And a few snips of chives can turn a plain omelet or scrambled eggs into a whole new recipe.

Try Them First
If you’ve never cooked with herbs before, taste-test them before you add them to any recipe. Some are overpowering and a little goes a long way. While you want to add some zing to a dish, you don’t want to overpower the other foods. Go easy on things like rosemary. And cilantro is another herb that can ruin a dish if you get too heavy handed. In fact, I’ve found there’s no middle road with it, you either love it or you hate it.

Grow Them Yourself
One way you can have a constant supply of herbs and save even more money is to grow your own. And no, you don’t need to be a master gardener to do it. They’re fairly hardy, don’t need a lot of watering, and they grow and spread quickly. I have a terraced area at the back of the house and I planted a variety of herbs there just a few years ago and now the whole area is filled in with no space between the herbs. Another great thing is animals such as deer and rabbits leave them alone. Few pests bother them, so growing them organically is a possibility too.

When Summer Winds Down
While summer’s bounty doesn’t last forever, herbs can be dried or even frozen. They can also be added to oils and vinegars and enjoyed in the dead of winter. I’ve even managed to keep herbs like basil and dill thriving right up to the holidays by bringing them inside and growing them on a windowsill. And if you’re thinking of drying herbs, don’t dry more than you think you’ll use in a six-month period. They quickly lose their flavor and once dried be sure to keep them out of direct sunlight. As far as freezing goes, I chop them up put them in ice cube trays, add water and freeze them. You can leave them in the trays or add them to freezer bags and take out a few cubes at a time and add them to stocks and soups.

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