Herbs.

Most of us were introduced to herbs and spices through a gift or purchase of the ultimate, spinning spice rack, containing at least 20 herbs and spices. We would measure these somewhat dusty powders and flakes with the precision of chemist, being sure the follow the recipe formula. We had no idea what these herbs actually looked or smelled like before they were dried, processed and packaged, into our perfect little jars.

The flavor of fresh herbs has little in common with what comes in a jar. Jars will always have their place, but the often mild and musty flavors truly do not compare to herbs that come straight from the garden. Fresh herbs present with a curious depth of flavor, along with their colorful appearance. They taste just a little different every time, depending on when and where they were planted, harvested and consumed. The flavors of herbs are intertwined with whatever food you are preparing, adding unique color, taste and excitement. Some herbs provide sharp, almost citrus-like flavors, others are mellow and sweet, while others are pungent and highly aromatic. Good news~ all are virtually calorie-free, so be generous!

On top of their unique flavorings, they can also add nutritional value to your creative dishes. Here are just a few that can easily be the start of your fresh herb garden🌿 or available at most markets.

🌱BASIL — is a culinary herb of the mint family and a native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia, hence why it is often present in Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. There are over 150 species of basil and may individual strains and hybrids. The most popular basil, is actually sweet basil, perhaps for the happiness it brings to your herb garden — as it loves the heat and grows in abundance. About 6 leaves or 2 chopped tablespoons provide 16 mg of potassium. Basil has been used in some cultures for medicinal purposes and its oils and extracts are said to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties, but you are consuming it for flavor and color more than anything else. It is hard to imagine summer without fresh basil, for its spicy, vibrant scent truly captures the season. Of course, its use in pesto is surely a favorite.

CILANTRO — Cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant. The name coriander is derived from the Latin korris, which means bedbug😝…lol. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L) is part of the Apiaceae family, which contains 3,700 species, including carrots, celery, and parsley. It is mostly used in Mexican and Thai dishes, as well as Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian meals like curries and masalas. Although touted to have antioxidant properties, it is flavor that makes this herb so essential. Cilantro adds a delicious zest to food. However, I am sure you have friends or family members who absolutely dislike cilantro. For the lovers of cilantro, this reaction is not relatable. But it is not the haters fault, it is simple genetics. Many people who do not like cilantro have the OR6A2 gene. This gene influences cell receptors to pick up the scent of aldehyde chemicals. Say what?? These aldehyde chemicals are found in cilantro… and soap. This is why many (unfortunate) people truly believe that cilantro tastes like soap. For those of us without the OR6A2 gene, bring on the cilantro!

PARSLEY- otherwise known as Petroselinum crispum, is also part of the family Apiaceae, native to Mediterranean region. Parsley leaves were actually used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a flavoring and garnish for foods, very similar to how we use parsley today. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties due to its antioxidants, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. There are the two different types of the most common available parsley, curly versus the flat-leaf or Italian parsley. The difference in flavor is very subtle, although the flat-leaf parsley is considered to be stronger and better tasting. It must of been the curly parsley I was not a lover of (especially growing up and only eating it during the Passover seder, when you dip it in salt water😝), but as I have somewhat matured :) — I have discovered that it is a nutritional and colorful boost to many dishes.

COOKING WITH FRESH HERBS: *It is best to add these fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process, to maximize their flavor. *Separate the leaves from the stems and only use the leaves, unless a recipe states otherwise. *Use a sharp knife or herb scissors when chopping fresh herbs. *When using fresh instead of dried herbs in a recipe, add 3–4 times more fresh herbs than the recipe calls for. *When cooking with more robust herbs like rosemary and thyme, the more savory herbs, add these earlier in the cooking process to maximize flavor.

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

BASIL or CILANTRO PESTO

Pestos are such an awesome way to flavor anything from fish, chicken and veggies, to gnocchi and orzo. Both basil and cilantro can add an intense flavor, so choose what you are in the mood for, but just choose one at a time. I use a low sodium broth to decrease the amount of calories and fat from too much oil.

INGREDIENTS
1 bunch basil or cilantro
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 ounces pine nuts or walnuts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons vegetable broth, low sodium
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION
Put the basil or cilantro in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add the garlic and pine nuts and pulse to combine. Add about the olive oil and blend until a paste begins to form. Add the broth, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese.
Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper, and even more garlic😊 . Toss with your protein or pasta of choice. Makes about 2 cups.

GRILLED CAULIFLOWER STEAKS

Cauliflower is quite the versatile vegetable, as it can play the part of the rice, the steak or vegetable. In this recipe, it is the “steak,” but you could easily chop the cauliflower into florets instead and roast in the oven.

INGREDIENTS
1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and sliced into about 4–5 slabs
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one lemon
1/2–1 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley (and/or cilantro)
pinch of chili flakes

PREPARATION
Preheat grill to medium-high. If using a grill basket, place on the grill to preheat as well. Combine garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Rub all over cauliflower steaks. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, parsley and chili flakes in a separate bowl.

Place cauliflower steaks directly on grill or in grill basket. Grill for 6–7 minutes, basting with olive oil, parsley and chili flakes mixture. Flip over and repeat basting and grilling for about 5–6 minutes. Both sides should appear slightly charred on both sides. Transfer to serving platter and drizzle remaining mixture on top. Sprinkle with extra chili flakes, if desired.

If roasting, roast at 450 degrees for about 20–25 minutes, basting and flipping about every 5 minutes.

CILANTRO LIME MARGARITAS

Herbs and alcohol can be one of the most refreshing combinations to indulge in during the summer. Although it is not ideal that we can not order straight up at a bar right now, we can create this interesting concoction at home with less sugar yet remarkable flavor. I adopted this from Cooking Light, with a little sweet and more alcohol ;). This pungent herb really amps up the tastebuds here!

INGREDIENTS
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, including leaves and stems
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons honey
6 ounces tequila
lime slices and cilantro for garnish

PREPARATION
Blend cilantro, water, lime juice and honey in blender until smooth. Skim and discard the foam on the top. This is your base. To assemble the margarita, fill shaker with ice. Add 1/4 cup cilantro mixture and 1 1/2 (2, if you like it stronger :)ounces tequila per margarita. Shake for 30 seconds. Strain into glass. Garnish with lime slice and cilantro. Repeat. Makes 4 servings.

Saving the herbs: There are almost always extra herbs sitting around, so storing them properly for a second or third use is key. Basil can be stored in a vase on your kitchen counter, adding color and scent to your kitchen. Cilantro and parsley will last longer in just a glass of water in your fridge. For the long haul (about 3 months) storage technique, you can chop them up and freeze with water in an ice cube tray — which definitely works well for future cocktails 🍹.

Live the life you love. Love the life you live. ~ Bob Marley

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