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Summer’s Bounty: Home Grown Herbs

 

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Fresh from my garden pickings, and the easy spirit of summertime, my cooking at this time of year is inspired! As much as I can, I bring tastes of the outdoors into my recipes. When the weather is on my side, I like to spend my time outdoors as much as possible–whether I’m barbecuing, relaxing on the patio with friends and family, or dining al fresco in the garden of a favorite restaurant. If it’s me that’s doing the cooking, I choose my summer menus thinking of the great outdoors. I like my foods to reflect the laid-back attitude, and generous supply of fresh grown ingredients of the season.

I’ve used fresh herbs and spices for years in my professional cooking, but it wasn’t until Father’s Day a few years back, that I was introduced to growing my own. On our back porch was potting soil, planters, and starter plants of basil, dill, rosemary, bay leaf, and sage. Since then, I’ve added to the variety and work on them every morning; watering and weeding. I clip them for use in my home and at my restaurant, Abigael’s.

It’s amazing to me how many herbs are available…Mint for instance, has 5,600 species. Oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, savory, and basil are all members of the mint family. I grow a fragrant chocolate mint, which I add to a macadamia nut and strawberry relish. I serve the relish with a chocolate praline terrine at Abigael’s. The apple mint, which I use as a garnish in a cold honeydew and cantaloupe soup, is as subtle in flavor as it is intriguing! My garden sometimes seems more like a candy store, but I can’t think of a finer taste on my tongue than that of freshly grown herbs.

For those who have sworn against growing your own, there’s always the local grocery store, farmer’s market and fruit stands. Professional growers do the work for us and all we have to do is pick out the fresh herbs and produce of the season. When you’re choosing produce, pick pieces that look fresh to the eye, are free of blemishes, and feel crisp to the touch. Organically grown produce will cost more, but give us the peace of mind that they’re pesticide free.

The Jewish calendar of events dictates to us only one holiday during the summer. Tisha B’Av, solemnly celebrated on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, this year on August 9th, is a day of fasting. The mournful event of the fast is preceded by nine days of not eating meat and we avoid elaborate productions of our foods. Since these are a sign of prosperity, which we avoid as we commemorate the destruction of the two temples on the same day hundreds of years apart. The guidelines of this holiday keep to the theme and spirit of easy summer cooking. The simplistic tastes of the summer garden are a good basis to work from for your meals at this time of year.

Light and flavorful, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my recipe for Herbed Sea Bass with Saffron Tomato Jus.

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About Alison and Jeff Nathan

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Chef Jeff Nathan is the executive chef of The Abigael’s Group, which includes Abigael’s on Broadway and the Green Tea Lounge. He is also the author of two popular cookbooks, Adventures in Jewish Cooking and Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers. At his restaurants, and on his acclaimed public television series, New Jewish Cuisine, Chef Nathan emphasizes the flavors of modern America while strictly observing the laws of kashrut. Along with his wife Alison, Chef Nathan is setting a new standard for kosher cooking with his innovative dishes and creative presentations. Find out more at Abigaels.com

 

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4 Responses to Summer’s Bounty: Home Grown Herbs

  1. Yes, in the spring and summer, I grow my own herbs, including various mints, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, anise, sage, and lime basil. One year I found a pinapple sage plant to grow, but I haven’t found it this year.
    Some Fridays, after picking, soaking, and checking the herbs for bugs, I puree many of them along with flavorful leaves I have growing also, such as fig, grape and blackberry, and some garlic, oil, and wine. I use as much of this green flavoring as I need for my Shabbat cooking, and the remainder I drop by teaspoonful onto a plastic plate to freeze. Later, I take the frozen green sections and put them into a plastic bag in the freezer to use next winter so I will still have a taste of summer freshness even in the winter.

  2. That’s a great way to preserve your garden fresh herbs. And with the addition of the fruit leaves and such, you’ll always have an interesting meal on your table! Enjoy!

  3. I’ve been growing herbs for a few years now. I now use way more fresh herbs than dried. I get inspired to cook when I visit my herb garden. I grow lots and lots of basil in the summer so I can put up a lot of pesto for the winter when basil is hard to coax into giving me some big leaves. I live in N FL so I can force it somewhat in my kitchen window but it’s reluctant to give much.

  4. Never underestimate the power of dried herbs, but nothing beats the light perfume of a dish finished with the fresh taste of home-garden grown greens!

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