It’s June and summer is in full gear! One thing I love about summer cooking is all the fresh herbs that are available.
Herbs are a dietitian’s best friend for multiple reasons. They add depth of flavor without calories and help to season food, which lessons the need for salt. Plus, there is a lot of nutrition bursting from those little plants! Most herbs are a great source of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Some are also natural anti-microbials, which is partially why they are so often used in food preservation and others can aid in the digestive process. While there are many health reasons to use more herbs in your cooking the best reason to use them may be for the added flavor, aroma and color they can add to food.
Herbs (and spices) are usually what’s behind the characteristic taste and aroma of traditional and ethnic dishes, which illustrates their vital role in cooking. The part of the herb used in most food preparation is usually the leaf of the plant, but sometimes, like in the case of chives, the stalk in used. Herb flavor profiles range from sweet – think mint and basil – to savory herbs like thyme, rosemary and marjorum. For this reason, there are endless combinations in virtually any dish. More robust and hearty herbs like oregano and rosemary can be added earlier in the cooking process to help the flavors of the dish develop and intensify. Delicate herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill and basil should be added right at the end of cooking or even just before serving to provide the best, most robust flavor.
This month’s recipe features a versatile herb used in many types of ethnic cuisines ranging from Mexican to Vietnamese. Cilantro’s essence is often described as bright and citrusy, which is perfect for this tasty salad dressing. The soy sauce and brown sugar in the recipe round out the flavor profile with a salty and sweet foundation to balance the acidic tang of the lime. The dressing can be used to top any salad, but can also be used in a few other ways:
- Use it to dress Asian-inspired coleslaw with carrots, red cabbage, and onion topped with chopped peanuts.
- It could also be used as a drizzle over grilled vegetables or roasted root vegetables like potatoes or carrots.
- Or, toss diced stale bread in some of the dressing and bake in the oven for quick and tasty croutons to top soup or salad.
Get creative – you’d be surprised at how many ways you can use this great salad dressing!
This month’s recipe uses fresh herbs, and we find that they usually provide the finest flavor for most dishes. However, using more dried herbs all year round is a great way to spruce up your cooking and avoid the need for a lot of salt and other unhealthy ingredients.
Just remember this rule of thumb when using herbs: 1 tablespoon of finely diced fresh herbs is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs or ¼ – ½ teaspoon of dried and ground herbs. One last tip – buying dried herbs from bulk bins can save you a lot of money! It also allows you to purchase as much or as little as you want, so if you are trying a new herb for the first time you can make sure you like it before investing in a larger amount. In addition, herbs expire just like all other perishable foods, so buying herbs in smaller quantities (especially those you use infrequently) is a good idea.
For more information and ideas for using herbs in your kitchen, check on the Vermont Harvest of the Month’s website.
Lettuce Greens and Cilantro Lime Dressing
- 1/2cupolive oil
- 1Tbspbrown sugar
- 1/4cupwhole cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1tspfresh lime juice
- 1tspgarlic, minced
- 1/4cupcider vinegar
- 1tspsoy sauce
- fresh lettuce greens
- Combine olive oil, brown sugar, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cider vinegar and soy sauce in a small bowl.
- Blend until smooth and creamy.
- Serve over fresh lettuce greens. The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.