Herbal joys of spring
Even though we’ve had the occasional chilly day, it does feel as if spring is close. I felt that especially going out on my deck and seeing that green was showing amongst my pots of herbs. For some herbs, I take their hardiness for granted–sage, rosemary, lavender, mint, oregano, marjoram, chives.
There are others that make me breathe a sigh of relief when I see the green shoots coming up in the spring. Even for the hardy ones, it is such a pleasure to see them return each spring: it means more freedom to improvise with seasonings. I don’t try to winter-over in the house. There is not enough room, or light to have really flavorful herbs. During the coldest parts of the year, I depend on good quality dried herbs, or purchase fresh ones from the grocers. The problem with having to depend on buying fresh ones is that it really dampens spontaneity in the seasoning process. So the green shoots of spring are especially welcome.
Several weeks ago I was able to pick a few sorrel (Rumex acetosa) leaves to make sorrel butter to add some sparkle to my griddled salmon. I had to be careful not to get greedy as there were so few leaves there at the time. Now it’s a lovely
clump of bright green foliage. Sorrel sauce for salmon is in the offing. While discussing herbs with a customer at the Durham Farmers’ market last week, it was mentioned as something to be added to white bean soup. I’d not thought of that, but my mouth says that might be really interesting, given the bright, tart, somewhat citrus-like flavor of sorrel. That got me to thinking that I might try it in the lentil soup that I like so much (instead of the lemon–definitely not with the lemon juice). Sorrel leaves are very delicate and will cook down and almost literally melt into a sauce.
Another herb that I’m always happy to see showing new green in the spring is oregano–it’s one of my favorites. I grow the Greek, and usually the Italian (or marjoram), and Syrian as well. In addition to all the things like pizza and pasta sauces, I like to toss haricots verts (grown in a pot on my deck) with just a little extra-virgin olive oil that has been carefully infused with some fresh oregano (Greek or Italian, depending on my mood at the time I’m cooking them). While oregano and marjoram do well as dried herbs, there is nothing like the flavor of the fresh herb to wake up your taste buds and say that the season has changed. Spring is on the way!