5 Lesser Known Herbs That Will Make Your Summer Dishes Sing
Basil and parsley are great, but there's a whole world beyond the usual herb suspects.
Along with all of the season's vegetables and fruits, summer is when fresh herbs are peaking. Sure, you can keep herbs alive during other parts of the year, but many of them begin to really thrive when the weather gets warm. Basil, rosemary, sage, parsley, mint, and cilantro are big players in the fresh herb world since they're fairly easy to get in supermarkets and in gardens. But they're not the only herbs that you could use to add flavor to your dishes. Try one of these herbs that are lesser known in the U.S. for some different combinations.
If you're a Julia Child fan, you've likely already run into chervil, an herb that's used liberally in classic French dishes. It's also sometimes known as French parsley, and regular parsley is a substitute when it's called for but none is around. But if you have the chance to taste it, you'll notice the difference between the aggressive green flavor of parsley and the subtler, more anise-flavored chervil. It's a good herb to use with fish, like in this Roasted Halibut with Chervil Sauce.
I have a tiny bottle of dried marjoram in the back of my spice cabinet, but it usually only comes out once a year when I make a big stew that calls for it. Fresh marjoram is a whole different category. If you can't find any, oregano makes a good substitute, but marjoram has different profile than its more popular relative. It has notes of pine and citrus, making it a particularly nice match for lemon juice. It's delicious in pasta sauces, like this Orecchiete with Cherry Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata. You can also use it to make an alternative to chimichurri to pair with grilled chicken or vegetables.
This one is a little confusing, because to my American ears, savory is a cateogry, not a particular herb. But in fact, it's an aromatic herb that has both a summer and a winter version. Both are worth your time, but since we're talking about summer herbs, summer savory is the one to look for now. It's an herb that's a little bit lemon-y and slightly bitter. It smells sort of like thyme. It tastes great with, say, marinated tomatoes or in a warm potato salad with green beans.
Perilla is also know as the beefsteak plant, but you've more likely run into it in culinary applications as shisho leaf, which is what the herb is called in Japan. Shiso leaves have a warm flavor that taste vaguely like licorice, making them lovely to pair with fennel, as in this avocado grapefruit salad. It's also a nice addition to fruit, as in this pineapple, cucumber, and shiso salad.
Yes, this herb tastes like lemon, and is a nice way to add a touch of lemon flavor to all kinds of dishes when you don't want to use the actual fruit, or when you want to enhance its flavor. It's often added to tea to give it a lemon flavor. You can use it in desserts, like this Lemon Verbena Ice Cream or Lemon Verbena Creme Brulée. But it would also add a nice note to soups and sauces. Taste it and see what you think it might pair well with. You might be surprised.