I've been thinking intently about herbs lately. Herbs are stealth and unassuming, the most accessible secret weapons of any good kitchen. Thus, I bring you the Dharma Kitchen's seven favorite herb pairings.
A couple of weeks ago at the Easton Farmers' Market, I teamed up with Donna Middlebrook of Jett's Produce to talk about herbs—everything from ancient wisdom to contemporary culinary possibilities. I came away from that session having tasted a raw stevia leaf for the first time (I'd tasted a dried version of the herb before), which overcame my tastebuds with its intense sweetness. I also became even more obsessed with lemon verbena, which is intensely lemony in the best way possible, and couldn't wait to make a simple syrup. (And so I did.) Mostly, I'm determined to break out of my regular habits with herbs by turning to ones I don't typically use on a regular basis. Like tarragon and marjoram.
With these pairings, my aim is to keep it a little surprising, although some of these may not be new to you at all.
Cucumbers and French tarragon. I was still hungry after lunch and wanted to put something crunchy and green in a bowl. That usually means cucumbers, a food I hardly ever eat in the winter; after all, who needs the cooling ability of a cucumber in January, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere? We know about cukes and dill. But dill, fennel and tarragon are all close cousins, so it makes sense to mix it up. It's a refreshing combo, tossed with a little white wine vinegar and a good crack of pepper and sea salt.
Plums and rosemary. There's something about the sweet-to-sour transition of eating a plum from the outside in, against the piney resinous taste of rosemary, which happens to be one of my very most favorite herbs. Chop some rosemary, roll it in a little bit of granulated sugar and toss over some sliced-in-half plums.
Strawberry and basil. This one ain't totally original—you may have seen this combo before—but it's not your run-of-the-mill set up for basil by any stretch. The sharp, minty taste of basil plays off the intense sweetness of strawberries. Try a bowl full of strawberries (local if possible), tossed in a tiny bit of vanilla sugar, with some torn basil.
Watermelon and mint Surely, you don't need to do much more to watermelon, other than to slice a big hunk of it and try to eat around the seeds as the juices drip all over you. But should you desire to amplify the sweet, cooling sensation that you get from watermelon and you want something a little more refined, say, served to guests as dessert, mint is your herb of choice. I like drizzling a little bit of mint simple syrup on top of some chunked up melon, along with a pop of finely chopped mint. It also works well with cantaloupe and honeydew.
Peaches and thyme. If you're a follower, you saw my recipe for peaches roasted with honey, thyme and cardamom a couple weeks ago. There's something about the floral nature of peaches juxtaposed against the grounding, woodsy nature of thyme.
Blackberries and lemon verbena I know that blackberries can hit some sour notes, but the sweetest, ripest ones bypass that altogether. Lemon verbena and I are having a moment this summer (well, a few of them), and I like the acidic, lemony hit this brings. I don't mind a little pucker with my sweet. Do you?
Cherries and cilantro This may seem sort of bonkers, but think about the lime-like aroma of cilantro. (If you hate cilantro, skip ahead. This rhapsody ain't for you.) Then think about how many times you have seen things flavored "Cherry-lime." See? There's something to this. Try it in a salad, tossed with walnuts, some mint and a chevre. (See also cherries with parsley, but for different reasons altogether; it's a sweet-sour thang against a grassy-herby thang.)