Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Burning Questions: Herbs

This whole series of "Burning Questions" posts originated as a somewhat amusing troll through the One Block West Restaurant web site server logs, to see what search phrases were bringing people to the web site. As I went through the logs, the search topics seemed to fall into several broad categories, each dealt with in a separate post in this series. This post deals with herbs.

Poultry Herbs. Each vendor has its own special mix, but each is almost certain to contain a lot of sage and thyme. Many contain some rosemary and marjoram. Me, I use what I have on hand.

Do You Use the [Basil] Stem When Making Pesto? Yes, I use the tender stems. No, I don't use the woody stems.

Can I Make Pesto with Vegetable Oil? Sure you can, but unless you have an olive allergy, why would you? Pesto is rightfully made with extra virgin olive oil and I think it is available at just about every store in the United States.

One Head of Dill Equals. The term head refers to one of the blooming umbels of the dill plant. At the early stages, it will have flowers. At the middle stages, it will have green seeds. At full maturity, it will have mature, brown dill seeds. Most recipes I've seen, when calling for a head of dill, mean an umbel with mature seeds. I'd say that's about quarter to a half a teaspoon of dill seeds.

Can I Mix Rosemary, Basil, and Sage? Why not? I do it all the time in my bouquets garnis for ossobuco.

Cilantro Direct Sun Heat. Cilantro loves direct sun and hates a lot of heat. Heat causes it to bolt, that is, to send up a bloom spike and go to seed. This means that you should plant it in the spring and fall. In the summer, you might be able to get away with it in a location which receives morning or afternoon sun, but is shaded during the hottest part of the day.

How to Plant Rosemary in Virginia. With a trowel! But seriously, get a cold-tolerant cultivar such as Arp from your garden center. Plant it in a warm, sunny location protected from northerly and westerly winds. In the fall, wrap it in straw and burlap and pray like hell. Or grow it as a potted plant and bring it in in the winter. I can never get it to grow indoors.

Stripping Thyme Leaves. Hold the base of the thyme branch between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and use the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to strip the leaves off towards the tip in a single motion. The stem may break near the tip where it is tender so you may want to mince the thyme with a knife.

Differences Between Italian Parsley and Cilantro. Visually, you can see that cilantro on the left has rounder lobes than Italian parsley on the right with its more pointed lobes. Generally, you cannot substitute one for the other: they have vastly different flavors, but you should never need to because they're both available in most grocery stores. If you are confused about them at the market, crush a leaf of each and smell them.

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