Brighten Recipes with Herbs

Our local farmers grow gorgeous herbs--and we're celebrating by declaring May "herbs" month! These intensely-flavored and fragrant botanicals elevate even the simplest recipes, adding complexity and heady aromas with little effort. This week, an herb-flecked green mayo dressed up a simple spring dinner of pan-fried Gulf snapper from Concha's Salsas and Seafood. We dusted the fish filets with salt, pepper and finely ground cornmeal, then pan-fried them in a shallow one inch of hot canola oil. The delicate fish didn't need much to make it sublime: mayo whirled briefly in the blender with basil, parsley, mint, chives and a squeeze of lemon juice became a bright and creamy two-minute sauce. Looking for other genius ways with herbs? Read on for our five favorite quick and easy herby recipe brighteners.

  • Blend minced herbs with softened butter, then chill. Herb Butter is delicious on potatoes, a grilled steak, or spread onto warm bread.
  • Make Mint or Basil Syrup: blend 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir over heat until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat, cool slightly and add a washed handful of basil or mint leaves. Allow to steep for an hour, then stir into limeade or iced tea (vodka optional!).
  • Frozen Herb-Infused Olive Oil. Freezing herbs in oil reduces freezer burn and browning and is a great way to bring summer flavor to winter dishes. Coarsely chop washed herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage are the best choices here--remove stems first). Place a generous pinch in ice cube trays, then fill to the top with olive oil. When frozen, transfer cubes to a zip-top freezer bag. Use to start any recipe when sauteeing onion or garlic, or throw into soups and braises at the end of cooking for a brighter herb flavor. Also great melted over grilled or roasted meats.
  • Pesto: Pesto's not just for basil! Throw a large bunch of washed and stemmed herbs in a blender or food processor (we love parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel), add 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup nuts or seeds (try sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, or pumpkin seeds), and slowly drizzle in 1/2-1 cup olive oil. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in a sealed jar and use within a couple of days, or freeze in ice cube trays for longer storage.
  • Spicy Herb Oil: spoon over mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, drizzle over grilled vegetables, or stir into your favorite soup recipe. Saute 2 minced cloves of garlic and a pinch of dried chili flakes in 1/2 cup olive oil until fragrant. Don't let the garlic brown. Add 2 Tbs capers (optional) and 1 large bunch oregano (stems removed and leaves chopped). Remove from heat, allow to cool and store in refrigerator. Use within 3-5 days.