Come summer, it’s the query herb experts and Washington Post Food section staffers get asked the most: “I have so much [insert name of home- grown herb here]. What can I do with it?” So before you surrender, we thought we’d offer advice and suggestions from people who are used to dispatching herbs in great quantities.
Because of its sweet and savory characteristics, thyme is my go-to herb. It’s rounded and balanced, which means it can work in any dish: orange vegetables, meats, sauces, beans and even desserts. It pairs especially well with garlic, mushrooms, squash and onion. Its sweetness makes it a good infuser for alcohol and for homemade bitters.
It makes the best vinaigrette for Greek salad.
• Use lots of thyme in a tomato sauce instead of basil or oregano.
• Stir it into scrambled eggs and chili.
• Add 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves during cooking for every pound of black beans or pinto beans.
• Flavor batches of white sauce, whole-grain mustard with lots of chopped fresh leaves.
• Toss a handful of lemon thyme (on the stem) into any fruit salad; macerate, then remove the stems before serving. I use lemon thyme in a spice cake.
Tip: It takes time to harvest those tiny leaves from their thin stems. Hold the top of the stem, about a half-inch down; gently pinch your thumb and forefinger together and zip down the stem. It’s easier to get the leaves off after the thyme stems have air-dried for a day or two.
– By Susan Belsinger, an herb expert for more than 40 years who published her first article on herbs in Gourmet in 1980.
Of all the varieties, I like chocolate mint the best. It has a dark note to it and seems less minty. The most delicately scented and flavored leaves are the three or four tender ones at the top of the plant. I like the taste of mint and basil together; at the restaurant, we use the combination in a shaved asparagus salad with a licorice vinaigrette.
• Use lots of mint to infuse high-proof alcohol. Stuff 4 to 8 ounces (including stems) in a 750-milliliter bottle of Everclear or high-test vodka. Let it sit for 3 or 4 days, then strain. We then like to add some bitter root, such as cinchona, and let that sit for 4 days. Strain, mix the whole lot with 250 or 300 ml of homemade honey syrup, and you’ve got a nice after-dinner drink. Keep it in the freezer.
• Make mint tea: Tear up a bunch of leaves and throw them into a large Mason jar filled with water. Let it sit in a full day’s sun.
Tip: Don’t chop it up too much. Use a sharp knife so it doesn’t get all black.
– By Tucker Yoder, executive chef of the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va.
They are part of a classic fines herbes blend that can include parsley, chervil, thyme and tarragon. I like them paired with tarragon best. Chive blossoms can come on strong, so discard the purple petals and stir the remaining head of the blossom into risottos or cold soups such as vichyssoise.
Use a sharp knife or kitchen scissors to chop chives, as opposed to slicing them. You will be cutting across lengthy fibers, and the cleaner cut will keep them from becoming slimy.
• Pasta doughs, bread doughs and quiches can take a lot of chives — I’d say a big handful if you’re making fresh pasta for four people.
• Blend them into panko crumbs to use as a coating for fish.
• Fold them into ricotta cheese; stir them into risottos or cold soups such as vichyssoise.
• Cover a bunch of finely chopped chives with just enough oil to coat, and cover them. Refrigerate for several weeks.
• Make a salsa verde with finely chopped parsley, capers, green olives and/or cornichons. The pickled components provide acid but won’t discolor the chives, as vinegar would.
Tip: When you pick the chives, you have to assess their moisture content in order to store them properly in the refrigerator. If they seem dry, wrap them in a damp paper towel. If they are wet, put them in dry paper toweling.
By Aliza Green, a Philadelphia chef and author of several cookbooks as well as “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices” (Quirk, 2006).
It’s so fresh and clean-tasting. You just have to be careful with it, so it doesn’t overpower anything. Tear the leaves, or use a mortar and pestle to bruise them to release their oils. Even people who have problems with cilantro like a cilantro pesto when it’s made with almonds instead of pine nuts.
• We used lots of cilantro at Poste, in sweet corn soup; with gravlax and smoked salmon; and with a saute of lobster mushrooms in the summertime.
• Pair it with a crudo of thinly sliced scallop or kampachi marinated in lime juice for about 10 minutes; maybe add chives or chive blossoms or a ginger vinaigrette.
• To flavor vinegar, wrap ½ cup of the dried seeds or 2 bunches of fresh cilantro (28 to 36 stems total) in a cheesecloth sachet, then sink it in 4 cups of apple cider vinegar. Seal in a jar and let it sit in a cool, dark place for a month or two.
• Chop up cilantro and add to a black bean and corn salad.
• Steam a bunch with mussels, chilies, garlic and lime.
Tip: Use the stems as well as the leaves whenever you have a recipe that calls for cilantro. They have great flavor.
– By chef Rob Weland.