Add some variety to your meal with a sprinkle of the fragrant flavorings.
The number of herbs may fall into the hundreds but there are several that dominate the market: basil, rosemary, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage and thyme.
At the same time, dill, tarragon, and everyday parsley continue to hold their own in this country's culinary herb cabinets. And all of these herbs impart a bracing flavor to a potpourri of dishes.
For example, you can stir the verdant little leaves into both summer salad dressings and winter soups or stews, as well as sprinkle on potatoes, rice, pasta, peas and beans. For a simple delight, place a melange of lightly cooked corn kernels and vegetables in a bowl and toss with a salad dressing laced with an herb.
A few years ago during a visit to Guadalajara, Mexico, I found a delectable recipe for salsa from a vendor at the sprawling Mercado Libertad market downtown. In this recipe the tomatoes are infused with garlic and cilantro, and cooked to a burnished delight, perfect for ladling over rice or spaghetti, or topping sandwiches for the picnic basket. Another favorite cilantro-infused dish is a bowl of Corn and Bell Pepper Relish redolent with vinegar.
Fresh fennel is also increasingly popular, known for its glistening bulb-like root, which I slice and sprinkle with a dusting of turmeric and bake until golden and delectable. And often I chop the bulb's feathery fronds and stir into flatbread batter, corn muffins and biscuits, and salad dressings, creating a "new" herb.
When locally grown fresh corn announces its arrival, I reach for an old cast-iron skillet and bake corn bread infused with sage and laced with a generous handful of fresh corn kernels, a favorite childhood dish.
And when summer is a longed-for memory I simply substitute dried herbs for the fresh variety, using about two-thirds less than called for in the recipe, give or take. For example, if a recipe calls for three tablespoons of a chopped fresh herb, then I use a scant tablespoon of a dried herb or less. But remember, cooking with herbs is as improvisational as jazz; there are no hard and fast rules.
So experiment and match your herbs with food to please your own palate, using whatever quantity in a dish that works best at your dining table.
Joyce White is the author of "Brown Sugar" and "Soul Food." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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