Herbal Delights

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The crop harvesting is getting mighty thin out in my little patch of garden. It is that ‘tween’ time of year for us frugal gardeners where it is too warm to plant for the winter and summer crops are waning fast.

But then, there are always my herbs.

Nothing defeats my herbs it seems. Nothing. They grow cheerfully year round, with little to no attention to the soil and just a bit of weeding and water from me. I have two types of mint, sage, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary and chives. I also grow green onions though they are more of an aromatic than an herb. I only include them here because I have some neat frugal ideas on how to use them up.

Basil:  Basil season is fast coming to an end. It is a very delicate herb that basically gives up the ghost once it gets cold. I make pesto of course but nothing beats shreds of basil sliced or torn into any pasta dish or garnishing a salad of late summer tomatoes and mozzarella. Just drizzle with good quality olive oil, a splatter of balsamic vinegar and plenty of freshly ground pepper. It is the perfect send off to summer.

Chives, I love chives. They last for days on end when cut and placed in a little mason jar of water on my counter. I slice them up fine with a pair of kitchen scissors to save time and top just about every type of meat/protein with them. Chive butter is very nice; just let a stick of good quality butter soften to room temperature and smash in a couple of tablespoons of minced chives using an ordinary fork. Freeze in a rolled up tube of parchment paper and slice coins of the butter off. Very fancy when used to top a steak or melted into a baked potato. The herbal butter frugal maneuver works for all the herbs.

Mint. Where to I start. Aside from being the cockroach of herbs in that mint resolutely refuses to die and thrives nearly anywhere, mint is something rodents, mice and rats in particular, are wildly allergic to it. I scatter it anywhere I suspect rodents may be skittering around. I also like bunches of it crammed into jugs of sun tea and slivered into Middle Eastern salads of all kinds. Tabelouh being a personal favorite. Just toss the mint with cooked wheat bulgur, chopped tomatoes, chunks of cucumbers, thin slices of red onions, briny olives and your favorite lemon juice-based salad dressing to moisten. It’s the mint that makes it. And I give bunches and bunches to my daughter when she makes botanicals for me.

Oregano. This is the unsung hero of herbs. I pick it at least three times a week and sprinkle it over nearly every steak I cook for my partner along with a couple of sliced up bright cherry tomatoes, the perfect steak topping. My partner absolutely loves fresh oregano. We add it to all of our pizzas, homemade or take out, and in most of sauces and even rice and grain bowls. Oregano is lovely, fragrant and with it’s modestly peppery bite, can be used in countless culinary applications.

Parsley: I add a chopped fistful of parsley to my Tabelouh along with mint and use it in  nearly all my Italian dishes. I would never make any homemade pasta sauce without it. It also adds a bright grassy note to any dish and never forget the power of a simple garnish when preparing your meals. Just a little parsley goes a long way over a baked potato or a green salad or even stirred into store bought salsa.

Rosemary. Ah, the work horse of herbs. This herb is incredibly hardy and if you can manage to mince the crap out of it, it makes a great herb butter to top just about everything. When I make pot roasts and other slow cooker meals, I toss in a couple of springs of rosemary and let it perfume the house with it’s woody, piney fragrance all day.

Sage. This is another hardy slightly musty herb that endures all year long. I find it works best when used to flavor tough cuts of meat, low and slow.

Thyme. This little gem is as delicate as rosemary is hardy. No cutting necessary, just strip off the tiny leaves by pulling backwards on the stems (employ the same technique for oregano by the way). I use it as I do oregano and parsley though it is more nuanced in flavor and while lemony and delicious, it is also more subtle.

Green onions. Ok while not strictly an herb, I use these bright aromatic stalks for everything from herbal oils to scallion pancakes. They end up in most of my pasta sauces, salads and as an accent in rice and grain dishes. I never make Chinese food without my onions. I simply snip them at the base and they grow back, over and over. A nearly endless supply of delicious oniony goodness. And you can basically get them for the price of one bunch of green onions or $.79 cents at the grocery store. Buy the green onions, cut the roots off, including at least an inch at the bottom and place in cool, clear water for a few days. Then plant. They will grow practically forever. My supply is going on five years old. I simply keep snipping them back and they keep on growing, the Energizer Bunny of aromatics.

Herbal Oil

Ingredients:

2 cups flavorless oil such as canola or grapeseed

3 or more tablespoons of minced herbs (green onions work great as well). Stems work fine for this application as well, a real frugal maneuver if there was one.

Method:

Slowly heat up the oil over low heat with the herbs. Allow the oil to bubble very slowly for at least 30 minutes, do not allow to get too hot. Cool, strain and keep the oil in a clean jar in the refrigerator.

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