27 April 2018

Cooking (and drinking) with herbs

It is full-on spring here in the Rockies (sorry, East coast friends, but it'll come someday) and my perennial herb garden is about to pop!  It's still too cold here to plant basil and cilantro, but I've got mint, sage, parsley, thyme, and tarragon all being brave little troopers about the occasional dips below freezing at night.  I am writing this post to a) encourage you to grow some fresh herbs of your own and b) give you some ideas for using them.  I promise they will make your meals oh-so-much better, and they're a fun addition to cocktails, too.

I'll cover the first half of the alphabet today, the second half next week. Skipping the obvious choices like tabouleh (parsley) and mojitos (mint), though I love them so, here are some things you may not have considered yet, along with helpful links to growing your tasty new herbs this spring and summer (here's a general one from the CSU extension website).

Basil-Lime Cooler
Makes 1

For the Basil Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
6 basil leaves
For the Cocktail:
1 ounce basil syrup
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed juice from 1 lime
1 1/2 ounces vodka
3 basil leaves
2 to 3 ounces seltzer
Garnish: basil sprig

For the Basil Syrup: Combine water, sugar, and basil leaves in a small saucepan. Heat over high heat until boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Basil syrup will keep for one week in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

For the Cocktail: Combine 1 ounce basil syrup, lime juice, and vodka in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Fill a collins glass with ice, then strain the cocktail into the glass. Add extra basil leaves to the glass, top with seltzer and stir gently. Garnish with straw and basil sprig.

...and chop some to stir into your BLT Rice Salad when it gets too hot to cook!

Chive martini
Is it cheating to use the flowers?  Chives are a little onion-y, but the edible flowers are not only beautiful, but a more subtle version of the stems.  So swap out the boring old cocktail onions in your classic vodka martini with chive flowers instead!

Chives also have a starring role in Crawfish Monica, the official dish of the New Orleans Jazz Fest!

Cilantro Margarita
Makes 1

Kosher salt
2 ounces triple sec
1 tablespoons sugar
1 lime, juiced
3 sprigs cilantro
2 lime wedges

Add kosher salt to a small plate. Lightly dip the rim of your glass in water and dip in the kosher salt to create a kosher salt rim.

In a shaker add all ingredients. Using a muddle or wooden spoon, slightly bruise the cilantro to help bring out the flavor.

Add ice, top the shaker and shake until very cold. Pour into the prepared glass and garnish with lime wedges and more cilantro.

I also love adding cilantro to this fast, easy lentil salad with cheese.

Tea and Whiskey High Ball
Makes approx. 8 (you could serve it in a pitcher or punch bowl)

For the tea:
2 oranges
2 quarts water
8 teaspoons or 8 tea bags black tea
For the mint syrup:
1 bunch fresh mint, ends trimmed
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
To serve:
2 cups Scotch or bourbon
mint sprigs, for garnish

For the tea:Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the oranges in wide strips, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Set half of the zest aside for steeping and refrigerate the remaining half in a zip-top bag or other airtight container for garnishing.

Bring the water to a boil, remove from the heat, and add the loose tea or tea bags and the orange zest set aside for steeping. Let steep for 5 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a 3-quart heatproof container; discard the solids in the strainer. Refrigerate the tea until cold, at least 3 hours. Meanwhile make the mint syrup.

For the mint syrup: Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup has slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl; discard the solids. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: When ready to serve, stir the Scotch or bourbon and half of the mint syrup (about 1 cup) into the tea. Taste and add more syrup as needed. Fill 8 highball glasses with ice and add several strips of the remaining orange zest to each glass. Pour the tea mixture over the ice, garnish with a sprig of mint, and serve.

Mint is also de rigueur in Thai and Vietnamese food; try it in this Brussels sprouts dish!

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