Cooking With Local Herbs

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Category : May, Seasonal Menu Ideas

Herbed Meatballs MenuYou may already be cooking with “fresh” herbs from the grocery store, but if you haven’t tried locally grown fresh herbs you’re in for a delightful experience. The difference in flavor between dried herbs and fresh herbs, even fresh herbs shipped for long distances, is huge, but local freshness boosts the flavor by yet another quantum leap.

When you work with local farm fresh herbs, the first difference you’ll notice is the fragrance. Chopping herbs for a recipe is one of my favorite cooking activities. The scent is exquisite, and you can easily judge the freshness of your herbs by the smell alone.

Another difference you’ll notice is the strength of the flavor. I find that the fresher the herb, the less I need to use in my recipes.

There are many herb producers in Whatcom County, though I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find a good selection in the grocery stores. You can find lists of local herb farms in the 2010 Food and Farm Finder (published by Sustainable Connections) or search on NW Farms & Food online Farm Map. Purchase herbs at your local Farmers Markets, Terra Organica, and the Community Food Co-op. (See our list of retail food stores with links to their web sites.)

Even better than farm fresh herbs are herbs you grow yourself. I first started with a small pot of thyme in a kitchen window. Now I’m fortunate to be living in a house that had a well established herb garden by the front walk when I moved in. Besides the joy of walking outside before dinner to snip the herbs I’ll be cooking with, I also enjoy the beauty of the blossoms and the exotic aromas of the plants as I walk outside on a warm day. Many herbs are also good for honeybees, so you’re helping sustain plant life on the planet when you grow herbs outside.

Rosemary, thyme, marjoram, several kinds of mints, sage, lemon balm, parsley, chives, and even lavender are just a few of the herbs that grow fairly easily in our climate and can be added to your recipes. Many are good for making teas, too, with either fresh or dried leaves or flowers. Cut stems when the flavor is at its peak, tie in small bundles and hang upside down in a dry, well ventilated place, or use a home dehydrator. When dry, crumble and put into tightly covered containers for use throughout the winter.

If you want to try your hand at raising herbs to eat, be sure you select culinary varieties, not varieties intended only for ornamental or medicinal use. Many varieties fit in all three categories, though.

This week’s locavore menu uses herbs to flavor meatballs, pasta, and a salad dressing. Dessert features Holmquist Hazelnuts, which I serendipitously found recently at the Bellingham Farmers Market.

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