Fresh herbs (Recipe: fava bean salad)
Would you call me a food snob?
I drink Fresca, sing the praises of Miracle Whip, and make a great chicken salad from a boxed rice mix. My pantry harbors no-boil lasagne noodles, curry powder, broccoli slaw and discos -- all convenience foods.
Yet, from April to October, I cook only with fresh herbs, from my summer pantry (also known as my garden), and no other herbs will do.
Eight years ago, I shoved a few herbs into a small strip of soil in front of my log house in Rhode Island. I could step out the kitchen door and, with my black thumbs, pinch a few leaves of this, or a few fronds of that. I became an herb snob practically overnight.
In the years since my first tentative gardening efforts, Ted and I have given more and more real estate to herbs. Today, I can harvest more than a dozen varieties -- and, until the deer beat me to it, the fruit of one Roma tomato plant, a few fraise de boise strawberries, and bushels of pears.
Perennial herbs form the backbone of the garden. Thyme and lemon thyme (which I never used until I began to grow it myself), chives and garlic chives, sage, and a bit of horseradish root that was a gift from a friend. Anise hyssop that, like the spearmint and chocolate mint, grows wherever it wants to grow, and lavender to mix into herbes d'Provence, though I use it more for baking and the occasional batch of lemon iced tea.
There's a bit of a United Nations feel to the herb garden. Greek and Italian oregano -- like the countries they come from, so similar and yet so different. French tarragon (pungent) and Russian tarragon (flavorless, mismarked as French and planted in error, but it seems heartless to let it go). Genovese and Thai basil, which could be distant cousins.
In addition to the basils, more annuals round out the garden: rosemary, cilantro, bronze fennel. Flat-leaf parsley that tastes so good we use it as the main attraction, in tabbouleh and even in omelets.
I didn't plant lemongrass this year, and, as always, my dill failed to thrive. But for my investment of less than $20 in annuals, and a perennial or two to replace things that didn't survive the winter, I have vibrant, flavorful herbs all summer. And, by freezing some and drying others, I'll have herbs all winter, too.
If you don't have a garden, or a sunny windowsill for growing herbs, buy at your local farmstand or at a good supermarket (though supermarket herbs might need to be refreshed by cutting the stems and standing them in water for a day or so). Then, when you're in the mood for marinated fresh mozzarella, sole roulades with herbs and lemon, zucchini moons with mint and parsley, vegetable/herb spring rolls, pasta with fresh herbs, or five-herb ice milk, you'll be ready to cook.
You might not be a food snob now, but growing and cooking with fresh herbs just might turn you into one. Like me.
Fava bean salad
A simple dish comes alive with a burst of fresh parsley. If you're lucky enough to live near a Portuguese community, you'll find canned or frozen fava beans in many grocery stores or ethnic markets. If you can find fresh favas at your farmers' market, that's even better, though more labor-intensive. Or, substitute canned black-eyed peas, chickpeas or lima beans, to your taste. Serves 4-6, as a side dish.
1 lb cooked fava beans, canned or frozen (or another type of bean), rinsed and drained
1 scallion, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Juice of one lemon
A bit of red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine beans, scallion, bell pepper and parsley in a mixing bowl. In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine remaining ingredients, and shake well. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture, and stir gently to incorporate all of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature or cold.