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HERBS: Seasonal cooking for the kitchen

Jun 1st, 2012 | Category: Cooking

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Long before I can expect any kind of fruit or vegetable harvest, I always look forward to getting out in my garden in spring with scissors and bringing in big handfuls of chives, mint, parsley, oregano, sage, thyme, bay and rosemary. Nothing, to me, says “spring” quite like a pile of fresh picked herbs. As the season progresses there will also be dill, cilantro, tarragon and borage, but for now I have to make do with store bought or dried.

Hortopita, a phyllo pie of greens with herbs and feta, is a more rustic cousin of the Greek classic spanakopita. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Chives, my favorite spring ingredient, are an easy thing to add to any salad dressing. I like them tossed into a plain vinaigrette or a creamy buttermilk dressing with young butter lettuce. They’re also fantastic mixed into biscuit dough or sprinkled into scrambled eggs, especially with a delicate seafood like crab or smoked salmon.

A more aggressive herb like oregano is wonderful to use with strong flavors like steak, as in the classic Argentine sauce chimichurri. Parsley, of course, is good for everything.

Mint is exploding out of the ground at this season. One of my favorite things to make with it (other than mint juleps) is tabouli, an easy salad of soaked bulgur mixed with raw garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and masses of fresh mint and parsley. You can also stir chopped mint into plain yogurt with a squeeze of garlic for a wonderful condiment for lamb, eggplant or chickpeas.

Another dish I love, one that also uses the fresh seasonal greens that the farmer’s markets have so many of in the spring, is called hortopita (phyllo pie of greens with herbs and feta). A more rustic cousin of the Greek classic spanakopita, it’s relatively simple to make and has an earthy, rich flavor. While the recipe lists equal parts of fresh dill, mint and parsley, plus lots of scallions, you can make this with any mix of herbs. If you don’t have fresh dill yet, I would recommend throwing in some dried dill just to get that distinctive flavor, but then fill in with big handfuls of mint, parsley, chives, and maybe some oregano or thyme. This is a great dish for potlucks, or to eat for breakfast with strong coffee.

Every version I’ve made of this has been good, so don’t worry too much about following the recipe exactly. I do recommend using more than one kind of green, to deepen the flavor – I particularly like beet greens here, which turn the feta pink.

Chive blossoms. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Chimichurri Sauce is a traditional Argentine condiment that is like a very pungent, earthy vinaigrette. We ladle it over soupy beans, as well as grilled steaks, grilled bread, scallions, roasted potatoes, and fried eggs, and I could certainly support using it as a salad dressing or a dip for vegetables.

Hortopita

Ingredients
12 sheets storebought phyllo, thawed
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the phyllo
6 cloves garlic, minced
16 scallions, chopped
2 pounds greens (chard, purslane, beet greens, spinach, dandelion greens, etc), washed and chopped
1 cup each (more or less) fresh dill, mint, and parsley (or other green herbs), minced
12 oz feta cheese, crumbled
several grinds of black pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic and scallions. When they begin to soften, add the greens and herbs. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the greens are cooked down and soft, about 15 minutes. Add black pepper to taste and lightly stir in the feta so it stays chunky. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Lay out your sheets of phyllo on a damp cloth or wax paper. In an oiled 9×13″ roasting pan, lay a sheet of phyllo into the bottom and lightly brush it with olive oil. Lay another sheet on top, crosswise if possible, and brush with oil. Continue until you have six layers. Pour the greens filling into the pan. Lay six more layers of oil-brushed phyllo on top. Put in the oven and bake 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling inside.
Serve hot, warm or cold.

Chimichurri Sauce

Ingredients
1 cup water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup fresh oregano (you can use all parsley, but oregano makes it better)
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 head garlic, broken apart and peeled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions
Bring the water to a boil, stir in the salt, then set aside to cool.
Mince the garlic and finely chop the parsley and oregano. Combine them all in a bowl with the red pepper, then stir in the vinegar, oil and salt water. If you want a smoother sauce, you can puree it – I like it both ways. Refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to use, up to 2-3 weeks.

Published in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine

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