Photo by Stacey Ballis

No more wilted basil on your watch

Stacey Ballis
June 19, 2018

When gardeners tell me that there is no such thing as a black thumb and of course I could grow things if I wanted, I simply reply, I. Killed. Mint. and that is usually the end of such conversations.

Generally I do not bemoan the fact that I do not grow things. I do not feel bereft of an experience of my hands in warm dirt or the satisfaction of eating a thing I have nurtured from seed. Of all the things I wish I could do, keeping a houseplant alive is very far down on the list, somewhere between being able to change the oil in my car and a facility with video games.

Luckily for me, my husband does grow things quite well. In the summer, he fills pots and window boxes with my favorite herbs so that the summer cooking is fresh and delicious, and frankly affordable, as I am coming off a winter of spending an inordinate percentage of the grocery budget on the pricey fresh herbs that are grown by others and available out of season at the store.

Here is what we grow onsite: chives, parsley, chervil, sorrel, marjoram, sweet basil, Thai basil, tarragon.

Other herbs will show up in my cooking, but they either do not thrive in our minimal urban growing environment or are cheap enough that we just don’t feel the need to bother. (That'd be you, dill and thyme). We also rely on some lovely gardening neighbors for things like mint and specialty items like lemon balm.

There is always a moment in the summer that all of the herbs explode at once and you have to harvest them en masse. This is where my herb garden salsa verde comes in. Not so much a recipe as a guide to making the freshest possible use out of an abundance of various green herbs so that they don’t go all gross in the crisper drawer before you can use them up. This punchy sauce is delicious on every single protein available to you. It is fine on delicate fishes and aged beef and gamey lamb. I like it swirled into pasta or rice or any other grain you have on hand.

You can smear it on your sandwich bread, or dollop it on top of your plain yogurt for a savory breakfast. It goes gangbusters with scrambled eggs and grits. It pair perfectly with all toasted breadstuffs including waffles. You can add it to sour cream for a dip, or mayo for a salad dressing or lavish it on your focaccia or pizza before you slide them into the oven. Add in some pine nuts or almonds, a clove of garlic and some parm and you have a mixed herb pesto that will knock your socks off.

The best part is that no two batches are ever identical, since your herb harvest will change throughout the summer, so it never gets boring. Sometimes it is really minty and fresh, sometimes more anise-y from tarragon, or really grassy from parsley. When the sorrel is plentiful it goes extra lemony. Magic.

It also freezes beautifully, so I just make a big batch and plop dollops into an old ice cube tray and then I have a bag of herb cubes to toss into sauces or soups or stews all fall and winter.

To make, harvest all of your herbs, pick through them for dead leaves, wash and dry them. Then pile them all together lightly into a large measuring cup and see what you have. Then I use the following ratio, but this is just what I like, you should adjust to your taste. For example, I don’t like garlic in this, because I think then the whole thing just tastes of garlic, but if you love garlic, use it. Garlic scapes would be great in this.

Photo by Stacey Ballis

For every 4 cups of loosely packed mixed herbs, start with the following:

Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon white wine or white vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pulse in your food processor until you have a cohesive but still chunky paste. Then taste. This is where your personal taste is KEY. If you like it punchier, add more vinegar or lemon. Spicier, add more pepper flakes. Adjust salt, remembering that you will eat this on top of other food so it should be a bit more salt-forward than if you were just eating it out of a spoon. Do you grow spicy peppers or have an old serrano or Thai green chile hanging about, toss it in and eliminate the pepper flakes. Add that garlic if you love it. Want it looser, add more oil. Once you start tinkering you’ll find the profile that suits you best.

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