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Fresh herbs: Big flavor in small bunches

May 8th, 2014 | Category: Cooking

by Mary Ellen Carter

Fresh herbs are nature’s surprise. They pack big flavor, are easy to grow, and so rewarding. They are not only tasty, but can be exciting when used with conviction and a bit of attitude. It is hard to imagine what cooking would be without them, so important are they, whether being assertive or quietly supporting other flavors in your cooking.



Herbs distinctly identify the cornerstone of every cuisine:

• Italian: oregano, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, fennel.

• Asian: cilantro, lemongrass, Thai basil, mint, garlic chives.

• Greek: dill, Greek oregano, lemon thyme, rosemary.

• French: lavender, tarragon, thyme, chervil.

Herbs take center stage in these following recipes celebrating the flavors of the season.

Everything old is new again with Green Goddess Dressing. This dressing from the 1920s was created in San Francisco’ famed Palace Hotel to celebrate the stage show called the Green Goddess. This is my updated version of this versatile vegetable dressing.

The Creamed Spring Herb Soup is a pureed soup that has the light and lively tastes of spring. The nutmeg adds warmth and depth to the “green” flavors. Any combination of herbs or greens can be used. Lastly, the Poached Salmon is a delicious dinner or lunch.

Mary Ellen Carter is local food enthusiast committed to preserving food and culture based on the values of community and sustainability.  She is a strong advocate continuing to write and teach about the value of returning to the table to enjoy good seasonal  food.


Green Goddess Dressing


1 medium avocado

1 handful mint, about ¼ cup loosely packed leaves

1 bunch basil, about ½ cup loosely packed leaves

1 bunch tarragon, about ¼ cup loosely packed leaves

1 small handful Italian parsley leaves only, about ½ cup loosely packed leaves

2 cloves garlic

2 anchovies

½ cup Greek yogurt

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper to taste


Pluck leaves of herbs off stems; discard stems.

Place herbs, avocado, parsley and approximately 3 tablespoons water into a blender; blend until smooth, adding a little more water if needed. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and anchovies to a paste; add to the crushed herbs, along with the yogurt and mayonnaise. Whisk to combine, then whisk in the olive oil and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate until ready to use. If needed, add a little water to adjust consistency.

Makes 1 cup


Creamed Spring Herb Soup


3 tablespoons butter

1 bunch green onions

1 bunch spinach

1 bunch basil

1 bunch Italian parsley

3 sprigs thyme leaves

3 sprigs tarragon leaves

1 quart vegetable broth

Freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste


Melt butter in a soup pot and sauté green onion, greens and herbs for 10 minutes. Add broth, cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, puree and adjust seasonings.

Return to low heat, add cream and gently warm.

Serves 4


Poached Salmon in a Fresh Herb Broth with Spring Peas


6 sprigs of tarragon, 1 sprig chopped

12 sprigs of chives, 2 sprigs chopped

2 thyme sprigs

1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 celery ribs with leaves, cut into thirds

One strip of lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt


Six 6-ounce skinless center-cut salmon fillets

1 cup fresh shelled peas or frozen baby peas

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil



Make the broth:

In a medium saucepan, combine the unchopped tarragon and chives with the water, wine, parsley leaves, celery, garlic, thyme, coriander seeds, peppercorns, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer the broth for 20 minutes. Strain the vegetable-herb broth into a very large skillet; discard the solids.

Bring the broth to a simmer. Season the salmon with salt and carefully add the fillets to the skillet, skinned side up. Bring the broth back to a simmer. Cover the skillet and cook the salmon for 3 minutes, turn the fillets and add the peas.

Cover and cook until the peas are bright green and the salmon is barely cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the salmon to shallow bowls and scatter the peas on top. Whisk the olive oil into the broth. Pour the broth over the salmon, sprinkle with the chopped tarragon and chives.

Serves 6 


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