As we sat in the backyard the other night, my next-door neighbor expressed surprise that I grow fresh herbs. I met her skepticism with incredulity of my own.
“Are you kidding? They practically grow themselves.”
“Don’t the squirrels eat them?”
“But what do you do with them?”
At that point she had me stumped. What do I do with fresh herbs? I didn’t know where to start! My mother always had an herb garden. I remember rubbing the leaves between my fingers, imprinting the prickly perfume of sage and thyme upon my memory. Herbs flavor my summers as much as sweet corn and watermelon, maybe even more so, because they sneak into almost every meal. I snip mint and basil into lettuce salads. I top grilled zucchini with chopped oregano, crumbled feta cheese and a splash of red wine vinegar. I roast cherry tomatoes until sugar-sweet then shower them with snipped chives. Herbs lend themselves to improvisation; they’ll rarely ruin a meal, and they’ll nearly always make it better—and prettier.
But of course, it never hurts to have a little guidance, and in the last year or two, I’ve stumbled into some wonderful recipes through work. Blend cilantro and parsley into Chimichurri, an Argentinian steak sauce that’s as vibrant in flavor as it is in color. Impress your friends with a kitchen science experiment: Whipped Herb Butter made from a carton of cream in your stand mixer. And come September, when you’re harvesting basil by the bushel, make Herb Salt to keep in a jar and sprinkle on scrambled eggs, chicken, seafood or vegetables through the winter.
As for my neighbor, last night we stood on the curb in the amber glow that followed a thunderstorm, watching our girls splash in puddles, and she said out of the blue, “I think I’m going to do it. I’m going to grow herbs.”
It looks like I’ve started something.
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