Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: These herbs want to get fresh with you -- let them.
This herb can elevate even the simplest summer dish; just remember to keep it out of the refrigerator, or else it’ll turn brown before you know it. Your best bet is to store basil in a glass of water on a sunny spot of your counter: Cut the stems right before you put them in the water, and make sure to keep the leaves dry.
Cook: Mint-Basil Chip Ice Cream or Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and Brie
This lacy-leafed herb is hard to find, but worth seeking out for its subtle anise flavor and its fresh grassiness (in the best possible way).
Cook: Mushrooms on Toast or Fergus Henderson's Red Salad
Cilantro is one polarizing herb, but even if you think you're not a fan, there might be hope for you yet. Only a small percentage of cilantro aversion can be blamed on genetics, so if you’re willing to give cilantro another shot, Harold McGee suggests starting with pesto, because crushing the leaves can help reduce the offending odors.
Cook: Cilantro Coconut Chutney or Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro
The smallest of the edible alliums, chives are almost always added to a dish at the end of cooking in order to preserve their mild onion flavor. Chive blossoms are edible too, and carry that same delicate taste -- but of course if you don’t want to eat them, the lavender orbs are just as enjoyable bobbing in a vase.
Cook: Black Pepper Popovers with Chive and Parmesan or Chive Blossom Vinegar
To head off any confusion: Curry leaves are not related to curry powder, and are not, in any way, a substitute. Curry leaves are a part of the same family as citrus fruits. Their glossy green leaves are very aromatic, with a citrusy element, but they have a unique flavor all their own.
Cook: A Simple Homey Coconut-y Red Lentil Dal or Spicy Cashew Curry
It's a happy, bright-tasting herb that pairs well with almost everything, and you can use the entire plant, from stem to seed.
Cook: Dilled, Crunchy Sweet-Corn Salad with Buttermilk Dressing or Dill Pickle Potato Salad
They look similar to common chives, but garlic chives have wider, flatter leaves that hold up better to cooking than regular chives. It's not just the leaves you can eat, though -- the flower, stems, buds, and pretty white blossoms are all edible, too.
Cook: Sake Glazed Salmon with Garlic Chive Egg Noodles
Lemon balm has been used medicinally for its calming effect (as well as to treat a host of different ailments), but this pleasant lemon-scented herb will be just as beneficial in your kitchen, too.
Cook: Lemon Balm Pesto or Raspberry Lemon Balm Jam
This unassuming stalk might not have the same visual appeal as a giant bunch of cilantro or a stack of shiso leaves, but don’t be fooled by appearances. Lemongrass can add a refreshing lemony taste to your dishes, lending a depth of flavor that can’t be replicated with a simple squeeze of lemon juice.
Cook: Mussels in a Yellow Tomato Lemongrass Broth or Lemongrass-Ginger Patties
At the grocery store, the mint you’re most likely to find is spearmint; head to a farmers market and you'll see the familiar peppermint, along with pineapple mint, grapefruit mint, chocolate mint, and many others (mint interbreeds so easily that the possible varieties are seemingly endless).
Cook: Buffalo Mozzarella with Balsamic Glazed Plums, Pine Nuts, and Mint or Mint Julep
This herb sports fancy ruffled edges and has a pleasantly assertive bite. Its flavor is minty with a gingery edge, though some describe it as herbal or citrusy, as well.
Cook: Quick Cucumber and Shiso Pickles or Sesame Shiso Wings
One taste of this herb and you'll be hooked on its refreshing sour tang. It's no surprise that sorrel is often referred to as "lemonade in a leaf."
Cook: Salmon in Sorrel Sauce or Creamy Sorrel Soup
Often used in bouquet garni, as well as in spice and herb blends like za'atar and Herbs de Provence, thyme works well with a wide variety of foods. Plus, running your fingers down the length of a sprig and watching the tiny leaves fall off is one of the more satisfying kitchen tasks.
Cook: Double-Corn Cornbread with Fresh Thyme or Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream
Photos of chives, garlic chives, and lemon balm by Mark Weinberg, all others by James Ransom
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