BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
Spring’s soft herbs are soon to appear at your farmers market. Soft herbs are some of the most flavorful available. They are leafy and tender and most often used fresh, rather than dried. Basil, parsley, chervil, chives, cilantro, tarragon, coriander, mint, and dill are examples of soft herbs, whereas hard herbs are the ones with woody stems, like rosemary, oregano, marjoram and thyme.
In many cultures herbs are respected for their medicinal properties as well as their culinary uses. Herbal remedies include mint for digestive issues, parsley for kidney and bladder problems, dill for digestive difficulties, and oregano for respiratory issues. These herbs are usually used in hot teas and essential oils to be most effective.
In the culinary world, soft herbs are easily recognized and available. They are also the most reliable source for adding depth and flavor to your recipes. They’re a cook’s secret weapon when it comes to changing a dull dish to an extraordinary one, full of freshness and vitality.
Common uses for fresh spring herbs:
Parsley: As a garnish for color, added to soups, or made into pesto or chimichurri sauce. Parsley pairs perfectly with lemon, butter, pasta, and eggs.
Chives: Wonderful in quiche, sautéed dishes, potato salad, and blue cheese dressing or dip because of its mild, garlicky-onion flavor. Also good for chive butter and on garlic bread.
Dill: Make your own dill pickles, add to sauces for salmon, creamy dips, and tzatziki sauce. Used widely in both Scandinavian and German cuisine. Good for poultry and a great complement to lemon, yogurt and seafood dishes.
Cilantro (coriander leaf): Add to Mexican dishes, tomato sauce, Asian soups like pho, and salsa.
Mint: Use in fresh fruit salads, cucumber salad, teas, desserts, or a mojito! Mint works well in beverages, with spring vegetables, and in cocktails.
Once purchased, treat soft herbs as you would a vase of fresh flowers. Snip the base of the stems and put them in a glass of fresh water, changing out the water every day or two if it starts to cloud. Store them in the refrigerator. When these herbs are cooked, add at the end of the cooking process so they don’t lose their delicate flavor. Use as garnishes and toppings.
At the Concord Farmers Market, you’ll find the freshest herbs from J&M Farms out of Gilroy who offers some lovely spring herbs like dill, parsley, and cilantro. Purchase at your farmers market for that just-picked flavor. The fresher the herbs, the better the flavor which is why the farmers market is the best place to pick them up!
Blueberry Lemonade with Mint
2 cups blueberries (plus a handful frozen for garnish)
1 mint sprig (plus 4 more for garnish)
¼ cup honey
½ cup lemon juice (juice from 3-4 small lemons)
3 cups water (or sparkling water)
A generous pinch of salt
Muddle berries, honey, salt and mint until all the blueberries are squashed. Scrape the mixture through a fine mesh strainer with a rubber spatula, leaving only the skins and mint sprig. Be sure to scrape the underside of the strainer. Combine the blueberry juice mixture, lemon juice, and water and stir. Serve over ice and garnish with a mint sprig and some frozen blueberries in each of four glasses. For an adult beverage, add one jigger of gin per glass. Serves four.