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Liven Up Your Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Growing your own is easy, and you’ll be sure to have them on hand when you need them.

Everybody’s probably feeling a tad soggy right about now, but let’s look on the bright side.

It is spring. Sun is forecast for next week. And we’ll have plenty of water for our gardens this summer.

Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking it will be time to plant my kitchen garden soon. I do it faithfully every year, in spite of the fact I don’t have the greenest of thumbs. I'm more like a sage green the years things grow fairly well and a dull-mossy-brownish green the years too many deer, gophers and other critters get to the veggies before I do, or I didn’t fertilize properly, or I watered too much, or too little, or something else goes wrong.

Still, each year I dig and rake and plant and check the plants’ progress each morning, because there’s nothing like fresh vegetables straight from the garden to the kitchen to the table.

And my favorite thing to grow that really makes a difference in my cooking is fresh herbs. Besides being practically foolproof to grow (and making me feel like a successful gardener), they brighten up the flavors of any dish.

There’s a huge variety of herbs to grow. My favorites are basil, thyme, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon, arugula, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, sage, oregano, marjoram and mint. Just listing them is getting me excited about starting my garden (as soon as the rains stop!).

You can plant herbs in your garden beds or in pots. You can even grow herbs in small pots right in your kitchen. Some herbs work really well in your landscape (for instance, the last seven mentioned above). Many are perennials, so they’ll come back each year.

I absolutely love having fresh herbs on hand for cooking. Any recipe will be enhanced when you add fresh herbs. A simple springtime soup of chicken stock, rice, bite-size pieces of asparagus and a mixture of chopped herbs such as basil, chives, tarragon and marjoram is delicious. Perk up your green salads with chopped herbs such as mint, dill and arugula.

Try frying sage leaves in a thin layer of olive oil, turning them until they’re crispy, gently transfer to a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Serve over vegetables or roasted chicken—if they make it that far. They’re as addicting as potato chips all on their own!

Add fresh herbs to pan sauces and marinades for meats. Stuff them into chickens or Cornish game hens (or slide them between the skin and meat before roasting). Of course, fresh herbs always work well with pastas.

Whisk chopped herbs into a salad dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of prepared mustard, chopped garlic and salt and pepper.

A small sprig or crushed herb leaf adds a pleasing aroma and subtle flavor to a glass of champagne, and add mint, lemon balm, lavender or other herb to lemonade or iced tea for a refreshing spring or summer drink.

The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld is one book I love for its information on herbs and for its recipes. If you can’t find it, there are lots of books on herbs out there, but this one is particularly lovely.

I always start my herbs and veggies from seedlings, and ProBuild Garden Center and the have some in stock now and will get more as the season progresses. General Feed & Seed will have seedlings later in the season, but if you like to start your herbs from seed, it has a great selection of heirloom and organic ones.

For those who are anxious to get cooking with herbs now, you’ll find fresh-cut herbs in most grocery stores or at .

FYI: This Saturday, Love Apple Farm kicks off its annual tomato seedling sale with more than 100 varieties. Read more about the farm .

And now here’s a fish recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook: delicious and easy! If you don’t have the specified herbs, play around with substitutions. Most leafy varieties will work for the salad.

Grilled Fish with Herb Salad

4 servings

Ingredients:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 T finely chopped fresh chives

2 lbs medium-firm fish such as halibut, snapper or salmon

2 medium shallots, peeled

2 T sherry or champagne vinegar

Zest of 1 lemon (retain lemon)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For salad:

¼ cup fresh spearmint leaves

¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

½ cup watercress leaves

¼ cup sorrel leaves

Optional: 8-12 nasturtium flowers

Directions:

1. Very thinly slice the shallots lengthwise, then toss with vinegar and lemon zest. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to allow shallots to soften and mellow.

2. Combine the olive oil and the chives.

3. Place fish in a shallow dish and coat both sides of fish using 2 T of the chive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Prepare grill.

5. Combine 2 T of the chive oil with the shallots. Gently toss herbs, shallots, a squeeze of fresh lemon, salt and pepper, and divide among four plates, arranging herbs in the center of each plate.

6. Grill fish.

7. Place one piece of fish on top of each herb salad, drizzle remaining olive oil on plate, and serve.

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