The best part about visiting my parents home in the summertime is the beautiful garden my father grows each year. He plants a vast array of vegetables and herbs for us–which makes warm weather cooking a blast! I look forward to visiting my parents and cooking with these home-grown herbs, which can brighten any dish from cool gazpacho to tangy fruit salads.
Unfortunately, many of us are not familiar with the abundant nutritional value in each of these coveted herbs, so read on for some exciting ways on how to spice up your summer and show your dining mate how eating fresh herbs adds a kick of flavor, enhances a healthy diet and helps protect against heart disease and cancer.
Here are a few of my favorite fresh herbs and some tips on how to add a burst of flavor to your dish.
Basil is a star in Italian cooking and has a spicy fragrance with hints of anise. I love fresh basil paired with fresh Jersey tomatoes and thin slices of firm tofu drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Another way I like to enjoy this tasty herb is in a homemade pesto and soups as well as tossed into summer salads. I always add fresh basil leaves (from my father’s famous garden) to my gluten-free pasta dishes.
Basil contains cancer protective phytochemicals, which help stimulate the immune system and block metabolic pathways linked to cancer development.
Here is my recipe for Cinnamon-Basil Carrots:
- zest of 1 lime
- 2 Tbsp. lime juice
- 2 cups baby carrots
- 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 3 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 2 Tsp. honey or agave nectar
- Optional Dip: Greek yogurt
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
- In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well until carrots are coated with mixture
- Bake for 20 minutes or until carrots are completely cooked
- Enjoy these delicious carrots with a nice dollop of Greek yogurt!
Also known as fresh coriander, cilantro is popular in both Latin and Asian cuisine. This herb tastes fabulous in my Mexican dishes as well as added to any homemade vinaigrette. Essential in salsas and fantastic in summer fruit salad. Cilantro can easily be added to soups as well as tasty marinades atop fish and chicken.
Its main aroma component offers antibacterial effects while its phytochemicals provide anticancer properties. Cilantro’s blood sugar lowering effects may help control diabetes.
Here is my recipe for Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette:
- 1 cup packed cilantro
- zest of 1/2 lime
- 4 Tbsp. lime juice
- Dash of Nu-Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice
- Puree cilantro, oil, lime juice, zest, pineapple juice, Nu-Salt and pepper in a food processor until smooth.
I always toss in a few chopped mint leaves to my summer fruit salads; adding a nice flavor along with the sweet taste. Mint is a must in tea and summertime herbed salads. I have experimented with fresh mint in both soups and pesto—the results were astounding! Mint can also be incorporated in ice creams and ices. Lastly, any type of peas pair brilliantly with fresh mint, as in my recipe below.
Mint is well known for its ability to sooth the digestive tract and reduce the severity and length of stomach aches. Furthermore, mint teas have shown great promise at easing the discomfort associated with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) as well as with slowing the growth of many of the most harmful fungi and bacteria.
Here is my recipe for my Summer Snap Pea Salad:
- 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked
- 1/2 cup sugar snap peas
- 1/2 cup fresh spinach
- 1/4 cup red bell peppers, diced
- 1/4 cup sliced fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- Slices of avocado
- 1/4 cup dried cherries
- Dash of balsamic vinegar
- Dash of olive oil
- 1/4 cup scallions
- Nu-Salt and pepper to taste
- On a serving plate make a nice bed of fresh spinach. Top with brown rice, sugar snap peas, scallions, mint, dried cherries, avocado, red bell pepper and sesame seeds.
- Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and oil. Sprinkle a dash of Nu-Salt and pepper on top.
I enjoy making rosemary encrusted chicken and turkey year-round. Bake rosemary into breads, muffins and scones or use in homemade marinades and grill rubs for red meats, especially lamb and roast or grilled chicken.
In addition to having anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects, rosemary’s flavonoids may help keep LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol from oxidizing, thereby preventing hardening of the arteries.
Here is the recipe for my Olive Rosemary Marinade:
- 4 cups olives
- 8 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Nu-Salt and pepper to taste
- Simply combine olives, rosemary, lemon juice, zest, oil, Nu-Salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl. Mix well.
- Cover and place into the refrigerator for 2 days-stirring occasionally.
- Serve with flat bread or bran crackers.
TIP: To preserve the flavor of fresh herbs in cooked dishes, simply add them towards the end of the cooking process or after cooking is complete.
What are your favorite ways to cook with fresh herbs?