Cooking with Herbs

Spring is around the corner and the garden will be in full bloom again. I grow my own herbs in my backyard. There is rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme, chive, parsley, cilantro and sage always at my disposal! It is a wonderful experience to cook with fresh herbs that have been plucked within a few minutes. The other great quality of herbs is that they are so diverse. Every country has it own herb of choice that is incorporated in the local cuisine. Like people, places, and cultures, herbs are also international.

Last year I was invited to speak at a garden party. I demonstrated how one can cook with fresh herbs and which herbs paired well with which recipes. We played a “guess the herb” game where you had to identify the name of the herb by seeing and smelling it. The person with the most right answers won a gift bag of gourmet goodies.

Basically, there are three ways in which you can use your herbs:

1. Cooking – If your recipe calls for a herb, chances are it needs to be added towards the end of cooking. You don’t want the herb to wilt and cook for too long or else it’s flavor would be lost. If you are using dry herb instead, the quantity used will be a lot less than if you were to use fresh sprigs.

2. Presentation – I like to take a few sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs for presentation. A parsley leaf adds color to a risotto or pasta marinara. A few sprigs of rosemary can be plated under a roast chicken. Fresh chives can be chopped and sprinkles over mashed or baked potatoes. Think mojitos!

3. Ambience – When I have too much fresh herbs and don’t know what to do with them, I put them in a vase with a little water. It gives the room a nice herby fragrance and makes a cheap arrangement.

Can you think of any other ways to use fresh herbs?

Here is a recipe for Salmon Satay. It is one of my favorite grilling recipes. The marinade is made entirely of herbs. Even if you don’t have these exact ones, you can mix and match whatever is available.

  • 2 teaspoons ginger , peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic , peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 jalapeno chile , seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed mint
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (1 1/4-pound) skinless center-cut wild salmon fillet
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor or blender; blend until smooth.

Lay salmon fillet on a cutting surface with a short end facing you. Cut fillet in half from top to bottom. Make 6 equal cuts across fillet, creating 12 pieces. Insert an 8-inch bamboo (or other wooden) skewer through the short ends of each piece. Arrange salmon in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides evenly with pesto. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Spray a nonstick griddle or large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high flame. Lightly coat salmon with cooking spray. Cook until browned on each side and just cooked through, carefully turning with spatula, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.

Cooking Fusion in your home

In my attempt to stimulate your global palette, this is the second post in a series of Fusion cooking.  These are just some tips that will veer your creativity in the right direction. Keep in mind, there are unlimited possibilities in terms of what you can do yourself!

 

Trick #2 : Play with spices

Spices have been traded, imported and introduced across borders for many centuries. Some say humans have been using spices since 50,000 BC for medical remedies, food and mummifying. Spice trading was an important activity amongst sailors. Fortunately, we now live in a world where our neighborhood grocery store bestows us the best spices from Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America – all in one isle!

India is the largest producer of spices in the world, but you need not cook Indian cuisine to enjoy them. Here are some chows and spices from different parts of the world that you can combine to create your own fusion….

Saffron – The sweetness from saffron makes a risotto very flavorful. Use only a pinch in the beginning as it will continue to add color as the risotto cooks. It can also be used with short grain rice or Israeli couscous.

Curry Powder – Use a teaspoon of curry powder as base of soups, before you add stock. It adds a new dimension to your potato leek soup or squash bisque.

Paprika – Sweet and spicy kinds of paprika are sold in Hungary. It is now used to add a little heat in a number of dishes, but the sweet kind can be used more freely. Try a paprika chicken stew using both kinds, but be careful not to go overboard with the spice or you won’t be able to taste anything else.

Cumin Powder – While cumin seeds are lightly roasted and used in some Indian cooking, cumin powder is fine to use straight out of the box. It has a strong peppery fragrance and is best when combined with other spices. You can add it to stews, soup and curries.

Red Pepper – These come in a variety depending on the geographic source and vary in their heat and flavor accordingly. Powdered red pepper should be used to flavor dishes, season meats and add taste. Fry a pinch with oil and roast nuts in the pan for a quick cocktail snack. Rub it on raw chicken or meat along with salt and pepper before you cook. Mix with some crushed peanuts and season fish fillets, then pan fry for a Thai style treat. Sprinkle on breads, add to sauces and don’t be afraid!

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Additionally, spice mixes such as Zatar, Cajun, Garam Masala can be used to season meat and fish and paired with a starch from another cuisine. See Cooks across borders for more ideas.

I am eager to hear from you. What are your favorite spices? Have you had a recipe go wrong by adding too much or too little spice? Please share…


Cooks across borders

I was talking to a friend last night who is a jazz singer. She works long hours and wants to have a light snack that is quick to prepare, when she come home late in the night. She said her favorite treat was homemade popcorn sprinkled with chaat masala. That got me thinking I should write about this!

Have you ever tried blending flavors from two different countries to create one stunning dish? The art has come to be known as “Fusion” and has gained significant popularity over the recent years.  I believe there has always been some degree of fusion taking place but it’s been geographically limited to neighboring countries. For example, the Mediterranean countries borrow cuisines from each other.  In the Far East, Singapore adopts spices from India, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Restaurants and chefs have gone a step further by combining distinct cuisines into one meal. Vermillion in Chicago, Mesa Grill in New York City and Lukshon in Los Angeles are a few top rated ones. Even on the show, Top Chef, the contestants were asked to create something by picking flags randomly. The Mexican-Chinese pairing was quite challenging!

If you want to experiment with international flavors at home, you need not be a Master Chef.  Even if you know a few basics, proceed confidently.

Trick #1: You family already enjoys pasta. Why not grab a sauce from another country and add it to your favorite pasta. Here are some ideas to get you started…

Thai+Italian=Make a thai red curry with penne pasta, then add shrimp or chicken depending on what your family prefers.

Indian+Italian=Top chicken tikka masala on a flat bread or pizza.

Mexican+Italian=Serve a gazpacho with shells or macaroni pasta.

More tricks coming each week.

Have any tips of your own? Please share in the Comments section.


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