Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to eat your herb garden!

Months and months ago now I saw a newspaper article written about a Registered Dietitian sharing information about healthful culinary herbs along with easy recipes that included these tasty fresh herbs. I wrote to ask if I could share her information on this blog because her tips fit so perfectly with the "cancer victory garden" developed by another Registered Dietitian for her cancer center in New Jersey that I have written about on this blog.

Although winter is now setting in with earnest in many parts of this country, fresh herbs can still be grown inside in pots set in sunny windows. So yes, I am late posting this helpful info, but not too late!

Many thanks to Denise Boozell RD, LD  -  Indianola Hy-Vee Dietitian, Indianola, Iowa.

Tips for using Fresh Herbs in Cooking:
Add the more delicate fresh herbs – basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint – a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it is served. 

The less delicate fresh herbs, such as dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking.

May add fresh herbs to breads or batters at the beginning of the cooking process.

Uncooked foods – add fresh herbs & spices several hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

A good rule of thumb when using fresh herbs in place of dried is to use two or four times more fresh herbs. For example, 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs = ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground dried herbs.

Health Benefits of Fresh Herbs
Herbs are a rich source of antioxidants, similar to fruits and vegetables, when compared on a weight-for-weight basis.

Adding herbs when cooking is also a great way to add flavor, yet cut back on fat or sodium, making recipes healthier. 

Some herbs help reduce bacteria levels in foods, acting as a natural preservative.

Basil: Most commonly used in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine.  Add to salads, linguine and other pasta dishes. Take the leaves and crush them in your hand or snip with kitchen scissors to release their sweet aroma and taste. Basil grows easily in Midwest gardens, is rich in antioxidants and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
Oregano: Known as the “pizza herb”, oregano, along with basil, gives food an Italian flavor. Oregano adds a wonderful flavor to pizza, pasta, egg and cheese dishes. Try sprinkling a dash of oregano on fried eggs instead of salt, or sauté fresh vegetables in olive oil with garlic and oregano. Has antioxidant and anti-microbial benefits.

Chiles:  Woodsy and warm flavors will penetrate even the most humble dish with a snip or two of chili peppers.  Big chiles tend to be milder, while small chiles are the hottest. All chiles grow well in home garden plots. In the fall, hang the plants upside down to dry. Chili peppers contain capsaicin, responsible for the “heat,” which is a powerful antioxidant that may help lower bad cholesterol and rev up metabolism, and also help with stomach health.

Parsley:  Eating parsley will freshen your breath and perk up the flavor of many dishes. Sprinkle chopped parsley on spuds, toss into marinades and dressings and add as a seasoning to almost any type of pasta salad. Has concentrated chlorophyll levels, which is thought to help “filter” and maintain health of the stomach, small and large intestine. It is filled with nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K.  Parsley grows well in gardens. 

Cilantro:  Often used in Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.  It tastes like a sweet mix of parsley and citrus.  Cilantro should be crushed or torn into tiny pieces before adding to recipes.  It goes very well in salsa and bean dip.  Is an antioxidant and aids digestion.

Dill:  Used in cuisine with seafood, dipping sauces, potato salads and dishes, vegetables and pasta dishes.  Has anti-microbial and antioxidant health benefits.


Mango Salsa
All you need:
1 mango, peeled, seed, and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups), I use frozen
1 medium sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup peeled and chopped cucumber (about half of a medium cucumber)
1/2 cup corn (fresh, frozen or canned)
1/2 to 1 cup chopped tomato
1 chopped chile pepper, optional
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or Italian/flat-leaf parsley
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon shredded fresh lime peel
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
All you do:
In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients.
Taste, add more salt and black pepper if needed.
Store in refrigerator up to 24 hours.
Let set out of refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving. This allows olive oil to come to room temperature.
Serve with tortilla chips. Also great served with tacos, fish, chicken or pork.
Note: truly best if you can obtain locally-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and other vegetables.

Basil Pesto
Makes 1 cup.
All you need:
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Salt and ground pepper
All you do:
1. In a food processor or blender, combine basil, pine nuts and garlic. With food processor running slowly add the oil, then the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Spread on toast or crackers
Tips – Add basil pesto to cooked pasta, a topping for baked potatoes, instead of tomato sauce on pizza, sandwich spread, even added to chopped hard-cooked eggs for a tasty egg salad. May use as a salad dressing by simply adding lemon juice to thin basil pesto.
Freeze in small jars or line ice cube trays with plastic wrap and fill with pesto. When frozen, remove cubes of pesto from trays and freeze in plastic bags.

Italian Bruschetta                Developed by the Hy-Vee Test Kitchen.
All you need:
Take & Bake French bread, baked & sliced - whole wheat or multi-grain if available
Fresh tomatoes, sliced thin
Fresh Mozzarella cheese, sliced
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper
Fresh basil leaves
All you do:
Toast bread slices in oven. 
On each slice, put a tomato slice and a cheese slice. 
Drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 
Salt and pepper to taste and top with fresh basil.

Asparagus Mushroom Primavera

Source:  Heart-Healthy Living   Makes:  4 servings, 1-1/2 cups each 
Prep Time:  15 min.  Cook Time:  10 min
All you need:
1 pound fresh asparagus spears (or use frozen if locally-grown fresh not available)
8 oz dried multigrain linguine
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 8-ounce package fresh button mushrooms, halved
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup shredded fresh basil
¼ cup crushed red pepper, optional
All you do:
Snap off and discard woody bases of fresh asparagus.  Rinse.  Bias-slice asparagus into 1-1/2 inch pieces; set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and black pepper; cook and stir for 30 seconds. 
Add asparagus (wait a few minutes to add if using frozen), mushrooms, wine and ¼ teaspoon salt to the skillet.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Cook, uncovered, for 4 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat; stir in butter. 
Drain pasta; add pasta to vegetables in skillet.  Toss gently to combine.  Garnish with basil and crushed red pepper if desired.
Tip:  You can also use reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth for the liquid instead of wine.

Fresh Mint Melon Ball Salad   (Serves 7) - a perfect late summer recipe when all melons are available locally and at their peak of flavors
Developed by the Hy-Vee Test Kitchen
All you need:
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup Hy-Vee orange juice
2 tbsp Hy-Vee honey
3 cups watermelon balls, about half a watermelon
2 cups cantaloupe balls, about half a cantaloupe
2 cups honeydew balls, about half a honeydew
All you do:
In a medium bowl, combine mint, orange juice and honey.  Blend until smooth.
In a large bowl, combine watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.  Pour orange juice mixture over fruit and gently toss. 

Rosemary Focaccia

Source:  Hy-Vee Seasons Healthy Living Recipes   Makes: 15 squares
All you need:
3 cups bread flour
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup Hy-Vee skim milk, heated to 115 degrees F.
1 package Grand Selections active dry yeast
1 tablespoon Hy-Vee granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or use 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
All you do:
Generously spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Process until combined, about 5 seconds.
In a 2-cup measure, stir together milk, yeast, sugar and dried rosemary.  Whisk in 3 tablespoons olive oil.  With food processor running, slowly pour milk mixture in a stream through feed tube.
On a lightly floured surface, knead dough by hand until smooth and elastic.  Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray; place dough in bowl and turn to coat.  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Punch down dough and stretch into a ¼-inch thick rectangle.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Evenly prick surface with a fork and make small indentations with your fingers.  Brush on remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool briefly on a wire rack.  Serve warm.
Nutrition Tip:  Substitute whole grain flour for half of the bread flour for more fiber and a heartier flavor.

Thanks again Denise for helping us all eat our herb gardens! May we all be nourished by cultivating our sunny window winter "cancer victory garden" enjoying both great taste and great health. :-)

Cultivating health through a garden's nourishment of both body and soul,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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