Drying Herbs

My food dehydrator’s been cranking almost continually for the past few weeks and I intend to keep it going through the fall. Right now I’m drying herbs. I have fairly large stands of thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and marjoram at my disposal, so I’m shearing them every couple of weeks. I’m filling jars with plentiful herbs for cooking and gifts.

Dehydrating lemon verbena

It’s been so long since I’ve purchased herbs, I thought I’d price dried herbs in the grocery store. I was totally shocked at how expensive they are. For example, a small one-ounce bottle of dried thyme was about $3.00. I have about a pound of thyme already dried, so that makes my thyme (and time) worth about $48.00!

Saves money and is fresher than storebought

Herbs are so very easy to grow and preserve that it seems a shame to waste money on purchasing them, especially because you don’t even know how fresh they actually are. By drying your own, you have the luxury of the freshest of herbs, and you can simply throw them away every year as you fill your jars with newly dried herbs.

Herbs are easy to grow

Almost all herbs except basil are extremely drought-tolerant, and they actually produce better flavor if somewhat stressed. So, find the harshest planting spot you have, and your herbs will thrive. They are all disease and insect resistant and need no fertilization or dividing.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, dry them in paper bags in a dry, airy spot out of direct light. The top of the fridge is ideal. Store dried herbs in glass jars in a dark cupboard.

Some herbs to try

Here are only a few – there are oh, so many more):

Dill

Dill is an annual herb with early pungent leaves followed by flowers and seeds which are all useful. Dried dill leaves and flowers are excellent flavorings for fish, potato salad and egg salad, and the seeds are classic for flavoring pickles. Try crushing the seeds and adding to rice pilaf with ground garlic – amazing! Let a few seeds scatter themselves and you’ll always have dill in the garden.

Lemon thyme

Thyme

Thyme is a perennial, woody plant with tiny, tangy leaves. Shear the soft new growth. It will send up new growth that you can shear repeatedly through summer. Mix thyme with goat cheese for an outstanding spread for sandwiches or as a dip for fresh vegetables. Rub into a pork loin or beef roast. For a variation on a theme, seek out lemon thyme for a wonderful treat.

Siam Queen basil

Basil

Basil is an annual herb that comes in every size and shape, from tiny spicy globe basil to huge sweet Genovese, the classic basil for pesto and bruschetta. This one does need lots of water.

Chives

Chives

Chives – perennial oniony herb with leaves and flowers for drying. Pull apart blossoms and dry the individual florets. Add to a baked potato or top focaccia with them.

Basil and lemon verbena

Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena has become a favorite. Tea made from the dried leaves is delicious. I’ve always grown it as an annual in the midwest, but here in the south, I’m hoping it will be perennial.

Rubs and marinades

Mediterranean grilling mix

One of my favorite things to do with dried herbs is to combine them in marinade or grilling rub mixes. Mixing them up ahead of time makes delicious dinner prep pretty easy.

You can use these as a dry rub for grilling meat or vegetables by brushing with olive oil and sprinkling with grilling mix.

For a marinade, add a tablespoon to ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar of choice. Mix in zip lock bag with chunks of potatoes, zucchini, peppers, green onions, etc. Let marinate for 30 minutes. Grill vegetables; heat leftover marinade and pour over vegetables. If you marinate meat, brush with the marinade while grilling but discard any left over.

Basic Grilling Mix

1 T. oregano
1 T. basil
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. thyme

For specialty mixes – start with the basic grilling mix and add the ingredients listed. Feel free to add other herbs and seasonings to make it your own.

Mint Herb Mix

Use on potatoes, lamb or fish

1 T. mint
1 T. marjoram
1 T. tarragon
1 t. lemon balm

Italian Herb Mix

Use for pizza on the grill, on grilled potatoes for potato salad, on chicken breasts

1 t. rosemary
1 t. chili flakes

Herbed Ranch Mix

Use on salmon, grouper or mahi mahi, grilled potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash

1 T. dill
1 T. ground black pepper

Barbecue

For meats, vegetables and potatoes

1 t. sage
½ t. ground chili (or to taste)
1 T. paprika
1 t. rosemary
1 t. black pepper

Umami

 What does it even mean?

Sliced portobello mushrooms

Such an unusual word – what does it mean? Traditionally four flavors have been associated with most foods – sweet, salty, sour, bitter. But now cooks are going wild about this fifth taste called umami. It’s what you taste in a roasted mushroom or caramelized onions – a flavor that embodies richness in savory foods. It’s also found in the flavor of meats. 

Umami takes food from ordinary to sublime and it’s something you can master easily with vegetarian cooking. For example, think of the flavor of a steamed broccoli floret, with or without lemon or butter. Now imagine the flavor of a broccoli floret roasted in olive oil until it is somewhat charred. See the difference? 

Where does it come from?

Umami comes mostly from a protein called glutamate. Which is not important to remember, but it is important to remember that roasting or browning foods causes them to release the glutamate and increase flavor. 

Add umami flavor to your foods

Roasting tomatoes and onions

So when cooking, think ahead of time about how you can get more umami into your foods – slow-roasting tomatoes, browning mushrooms, oven roasting root vegetables, caramelizing onions, shallots and leeks. This preparatory step will make a huge difference in your cooking.  

A couple of other tricks to boost the umami is to use coconut aminos, soy sauce or miso in sauces and simply to dress vegetables. These are all fermented products, and guess what? Fermenting also releases glutamate and increases the umami taste. 

Grilled eggplant

Some other sources of umami are the smokiness  you get from grilling, the aged cheeses (especially the rind), nutritional yeast, kombu (seaweed), fish sauce and anchovies.

Umami-rich oven risotto

Risotto is a favorite dish because of its creamy richness. This recipe will let you prepare it in the oven instead of standing over the stove, stirring and stirring and stirring. The addition of roasted mushrooms boosts its umami potential exponentially. 

½ T. olive oil

¼ c. finely chopped onion or shallot

⅔ c. Arborio rice (the only rice that makes a creamy risotto)

¼ up dry white wine, (optional)

½ c. hot water

2 c. chicken or vegetable stock

½ t. salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 T. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ c. roasted or sauteed mushrooms of choice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In an ovenproof saucepan with a lid, heat oil. Stir in the onion and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat the grains with oil, about 1 minute.

Stir in the wine and simmer gently until it has completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in the stock and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, transfer to the oven, and bake until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from oven. Stir in enough water to make the risotto creamy). Stir in the butter and cheese.