The Herbalist: Spring’s fresh flavor infusion
By Amy Maltzan
I have a mild obsession with fresh herbs. Through the dark months, I tend pots of them on my south-facing windowsills. When spring comes, I scour the muddy earth for the first spiky chives poking up through the cold soil. At the farmers’ market this time of year, I march past the stalls on a mission. Inevitably, my eyes are bigger than my basket and I stagger home, my arms overflowing with bouquets of dill, chervil and mint. Vases of the delicate stems clutter our counter tops.
Culinary herbs are my favorite harbinger of spring—my best friends in the kitchen—with flavors that elevate a purely functional dish into something luscious and memorable. I choose bright, fresh-looking leaves and because their aromatic, essential oils fade over time, prepare them as soon after harvest as possible. I always use a sharp knife, as bruised leaves oxidize and flavors dull. Their delicate nature means fresh herbs are best added to dishes at the end of cooking or off the heat. The edible flowers make lovely, unexpected additions to salads.
Obsession or no, herbs serve as flavor insurance in my kitchen. Throughout the growing season, no matter what other ingredients I bring home from the market, if I have fresh herbs on hand—plus sharp shears and a good knife— I’m guaranteed to have the makings of a spectacular meal.
Chervil. Its delicate taste evokes parsley, with anise notes; it looks like a lacy version of parsley. Europeans once consumed chervil with dandelion and watercress in a spring tonic to combat the vitamin and mineral deficiencies of winter.
Parsley. This nutrient powerhouse boasts vitamins C and A, folate, iron, and anti-cancer flavenoids. Purée for chimichurri or chew as a breath freshener.
Dill. The feathery foliage pairs perfectly with spuds, salmon and cucumbers. Delicious in a creamy buttermilk dressing or dip.
Summer Savory. Melds the flavors of dill and mint, with resinous notes. Pair with potatoes or white beans or roast whole with lamb or chicken.
Mint. A classic with spring peas; steep in hot water for a calming digestive tisane.
Thyme. The quintessential culinary accent pairs with nearly all meats, sweet vegetables (think carrots), beans and tangy cheeses.
Sage. Long a remedy for colds, sore throats, and weak digestion, sage makes a soothing tisane and pairs beautifully with fatty meats like pork or sausage.
Lovage. Slightly sweet leaves evoke celery and can be used as its stand-in.
Chives. Spiky stalks have a delicate, onion-like flavor and beautiful, edible, purple pom-pom flowers.
Amy Maltzan is an avid home cook, gardener and occasional blogger. More of her seasonally focused recipes are available at eggsonsunday.wordpress.com.
The above is excerpted from Amy’s Seasonal Cooking column in our Spring 2011 issue. Click here for another great story by Amy!
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