During the summer months, there is an abundance of fresh herbs that you can access easily (via local grocers, Asian or farmers markets) or grow yourself. Either fresh-picked from the garden or from a market booth, these herbs are chocked with enchanting aromatic flavors to enhance your meals.
Look for bunches of whole smooth leaves that are bright green, fragrant and without browning, bruising or wilting. If you purchase herbs with the toots attached, place the bunch in a glass with 2-3” of water and leave at room temperature. If rootless, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic or mesh bag, up to 4 days. Because many herbs are grown in sandy soil, be sure to rinse herbs well before using. To slice multiple leaves at once, stack and roll them up like a cigar, then slice them crosswise.
Enjoy them while you can…their local harvest season doesn’t last long. While they are available, your ingredients will welcome the amplification of their wonderful scented flavors and, together, they will yield some delightful summer dishes. Try one of the simple recipes below or use your culinary imagination to “spice up” your summer!
o Sweet Basil: A member of the mint family, its slightly sweet taste brightens almost any dish.
o Thai Basil: More pungent than sweet basil, its anise-licorice leaves add
o Cilantro: Its sweet scent works with almost any cuisine, but especially with stir fry and soups. You can use every part of the plant, with the stems offering the most intense flavor.
o Vietnamese coriander: Its tangy taste has a hint of cilantro and is usually served as whole tender sprigs in a salad or the leaves are added to salads or noodles.
o Mint: Mint is fundamental to Southeast Asian salads and mojitos, two of my favorite summer pleasures. It has a mild, calming taste that balances stronger flavors. Use it mostly for wrapping and garnishing.
o Rice paddy herb: This cilantro-like herb is added to food, chopped finely, just before serving, especially meats and soups.
o Red perilla, red shiso: Its flavor is a bit lemony and licorice-like; it is the Vietnamese version of Japanese red shiso. It is usually added, as shredded leaves, to noodles or used whole as wrappers.
Watermelon, Basil and Feta Salad: Drizzle watermelon chunks with olive oil and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and torn basil leaves; season with salt and pepper.
Mojito: Place 12 mint leaves, ½ lime and 1 part sugar in glass; muddle well with a pestle. Add 1 part rum, topped off with 3 parts club soda; stir well and garnish with mint sprig and lime slice.
Summer Lemonade: Boil ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water; add ½ cup mixture of basil, cilantro and mint leaves. Remove from heat and let cool. Add a splash of the simple syrup mixture to lemonade; garnish with fresh herbal sprigs.
Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Basil: Toss cherry tomatoes and diced eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400F until tender. Toss with cooked pasta and torn basil leaves; top with rocotta and drizzled olive oil.
Ginger-Peanut Chicken-Salad Wraps (makes 8 wraps):
1 tsp olive oil
6 (4-oz) skinned, boned chicken breast halves
1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground red pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
8 8” fat-free flour tortillas
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove the chicken from pan; cool. Shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Place chicken, cucumber, and bell pepper in a large bowl; set aside.
2. Place sugar and the next 6 ingredients (sugar through garlic) in a blender, and process until smooth. Add peanut butter and water; process until smooth, scraping sides. Add peanut butter mixture to chicken mixture; stir well.
3. Add cilantro, and toss well. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon ½ cup chicken mixture onto each tortilla; top each serving with ½ cup lettuce, and roll up.
Spicy Sesame Noodles with Chopped Peanuts and Thai Basil (serves 4-6):
1 Tbsp peanut oil
2 Tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp Asian sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp (or more) hot chili oil
1½ tsp salt
1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles or fresh angel hair pasta*
12 green onions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh Thai basil leaves
* Look for linguine-like brownish pasta; available at Asian markets.
1. Heat peanut oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Transfer to large bowl. Add next 6 ingredients; whisk to blend.
2. Place noodles in sieve over sink. Separate noodles with fingers and shake to remove excess starch. Cook in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain thoroughly and transfer to bowl with sauce.
3. Add sliced green onions and toss to coat noodles. Let stand at room temperature until noodles have absorbed dressing, tossing occasionally, about 1 hour. Stir in peanuts and Thai basil; toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve at room temperature or warm.