Fresh herbs impart bright, often vivid flavors and shades of green to whatever you’re making. Incorporating them into a dish can be as simple as tossing some roughly chopped leaves into a big salad or stirring them into a soup or saucetoward the end of cooking for a pop of flavor and color. Also easy: herb butter on halibut baked “in paper” with pea sprouts.
Half a step up from the ease of snip-and-serve are infusions. Let fresh herbs steep in oil, vinegar or simple syrup that can be used in a variety of dishes. Puréed Yukon Gold potatoes are elevated to a whole new level when artfully drizzled with a vibrant green chive oil. Herb-infused oils add depth to salad dressings and brighten the flavors in sauces and stews. And lest you think herbs — and herbal infusions — are only for savory foods, try infusing simple syrup with rosemary, thyme or basil and spoon it over strawberries and orangesor sliced stone fruit for a refreshing, sweet finish to a meal.
Fresh herbs really shine when, rather than being added to a sauce, they are the sauce. “Green sauce,” pulverized fresh green herbs, garlic, oil, vinegar or citrus juice, spices and often some form of heat, is a component of many cuisines around the globe. Specifics, like which herbs and spices and how much heat, vary based on culture and climate.
In Morocco, for example, they call it chermoula; it is heavy on cilantro and cumin and is often served with fish. In Argentina, chimichurri is made with parsley and oregano; it gets its heat from red chili flakes and is a frequent accompaniment to steak and potatoes. Italian salsa verde (not to be confused with pesto) is typically made with parsley and a smattering of other herbs and anchovies, though there is no heat beyond what black pepper brings. Salsa verde Mexicana is made with tomatillos and cilantro and gets its heat from jalapeños. Then there’s mojo verde — green cilantro sauce — which also has some parsley and oregano and gets its heat from jalapeños (tomatillos not included). In Yemen, fiery zhoug is eaten with almost everything. The zhoug at three local Middle Eastern eateries, Dune, Mh Zh and the Exchange, demonstrate how recipes for “the same thing” can vary.
Pesto,the rather mild Italian “paste” of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese, is often served with pasta, such as strozzapreti or trenette with pesto, green beans and potatoes. In Provence, soupe au pistou — usually a vegetable potage dolloped with pistou (pesto’s Provençal cousin) is a local favorite. California’s very own green sauce, not-at-all-spicy green goddess, is made with a variety of herbs often including tarragon and chives; it’s almost more popular as a dip than a salad dressing. Thai green curry, usually served with chicken or beef, is made with Thai basil, cilantro and lemongrass and gets its heat from Thai chiles, though serranos or jalapeños can be substituted.