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Cooking with Herbs/Spices Part Two
9 years ago
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Source of Photograph.....

Lesson 5: Vinaigrettes & Salads

This lesson will look at one of the most common uses for fresh herbs – vinaigrettes and other salad dressings. Then we’ll also look at using herbs in green and vegetable salads as well as other salads such as tabbouleh and hummus.

Vinaigrettes & Other Salad Dressings

Vinaigrette is a simple mixture of three components - oil, (olive, canola), an acidic liquid (vinegar, citrus juice), and seasonings (herbs, salt, mustard). Making vinaigrette is simple. In a small bowl or jar, add vinegar or fruit juice or even water or bouillon. Add salt and pepper. It is especially important to add the salt now, as salt will dissolve in acid but not in oil. Add any additional flavoring elements like herbs. Whisk or shake to combine. You can then add the oil slowly to the bowl while whisking vigorously, or add the oil all at once into the jar and then shake, with the cap tightly closed. For the most stable dressing possible, use cold ingredients.

     Please stay tuned for the next installment.....

9 years ago

The two variables that make vinaigrette so adaptive are ingredients and the proportions of those ingredients. The most important ingredient, due to its larger volume, is the oil. Choose oil by taste. It’s hard to go wrong with extra virgin olive oil, but sometimes a neutral oil like canola or safflower will let other flavors prevail, especially with the softer herbs. Nut oils, like peanut or walnut, can add interesting flavor.

The acidic liquid, the second ingredient, can be selected from any number of choices – here is where the flavored vinegars we made before are especially useful. Sherry vinegar is especially nice as it has a rich body and a slightly sweet aftertaste. Balsamic vinegar can also provide body and a hint of sweetness, (to perk up less expensive balsamic vinegar, try adding a touch of dark brown sugar). Wine vinegar is classic. About the only vinegar that isn’t appropriate for vinaigrette is distilled white vinegar. Alternatives to vinegar include fruits juices, especially lemon juice.

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Seasonings always include salt and pepper, but then there are a lot of additional options. Finely chopped garlic, shallots, scallions or Dijon mustard are the most common additives, along with almost any herb. Infuse, i.e. allow the seasonings to soak in the vinegar or lemon juice, before adding the oil.

Once you’ve chosen the ingredients, proportions are also strictly up to you – people have varying preferences for acidity or for certain herbs. A 3:1 oil to acid ratio is a guideline most commonly cited, but any other combination is fine and simple experimentation is the best way to find your preferences. It is useful to remember that the higher the acid content, the more salt will be required. Also, when calculating your acid to oil ratio, remember that mustard itself is acidic.

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If possible, make the vinaigrette about an hour ahead of time, as this will let the flavors meld. But always add the dressing at the last moment to any food like lettuce that wilts. Also, the base food should be as dry as possible as water particles will repel the dressing and it won’t stick. When adding dressing to a salad, add just enough to make each leaf glisten, (your hands make the best salad tongs). A beginning rule of thumb is ½ cup vinaigrette to 1 quart of greens. Vinaigrette can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks; it will solidify but just bring it up to room temperature and shake.

To start, here is a classic herbal vinaigrette recipe – use any herb you like as a substitute for the thyme in this recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 2 tablespooons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup of good tasting olive oil
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In a jar with a tight fitting lid, add the shallots, thyme, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Shake vigorously until the salt is dissolved. Add the olive oil and shake.

Other Salad Dressing Ideas:

Besides using herbs in a classic vinaigrette, think of using them in other salad dressings. Follow the above instructions for a vinaigrette, but instead of the acidic component, use a non acid fruit juice like mango or grape juice. Or instead of oil, use chicken fat, stock, or even water to minimize calories. Herbs, of course, are a great way to flavor food without added fat.

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Besides vinaigrettes, use herbs in creamy salad dressings. Store bought mayonnaise can really be improved with just a little effort. To a good mayonnaise like Hellmann’s, stir in a little lemon juice in which salt has been dissolved. Start with a teaspoon of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of salt in half a cup of mayonnaise or more, and then add to taste. Now add either spices or herbs that are compatible with the salad ingredients. Here are some ideas:

  • Curry is a classic additive when dressing a chicken salad.
  • Dill is a great addition to the mayonnaise used for potato salad.
  • Use mint in a sweetened mayonnaise on fruit salad.
  • Add basil or oregano to the dressing for a tomato salad.
  • Add cumin to the mayonnaise used to make a three-bean salad.
  • Add caraway to a cole slaw dressing.
9 years ago

Other Herbal Salad Ideas

Besides in the dressing, there are other ways to incorporate herbs into the salad course.

Think of herbs as a salad green the next time that you’re putting together a simple green salad. Besides the classic lettuces like butter, arugula, romaine, etc. toss some herbs directly into the salad. Generally, for this purpose, choose the leafier, milder herbs in order not to dominate the taste of the other greens. Parsley is a classic, along with its close relative savory. Cilantro and basil make great additions. Mint can bring an interesting taste.

9 years ago

Don’t forget to put herbal dressings on other salads like a vegetable salad. Here’s a guide to making a farmers market salad – i.e. a vegetable salad that uses whatever’s fresh and good in the market. Suitable vegetables include carrots, asparagus, sugar peas, broccoli, zucchini, and green beans.

  • Make a vinaigrette with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of mixed herbs.
  • Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
  • Blanch each vegetable in boiling salted water, i.e. dip them into the water until they’re just beginning to get soft and then put them into ice water. The time in the water will vary based on the vegetable used.
  • Allow the vegetables to cool. Toss them together with salt and pepper.
  • When the vegetables are at room temperature, dress them with the vinaigrette.
9 years ago
The recipe below pays tribute to a really under appreciated vegetable/herb, i.e. fennel. If you’re not familiar with this vegetable, buy one next time you’re in the produce section along with a small jar of fennel seeds. From the fresh vegetable, you’ll get two salad ingredients. The large bulb at the bottom of the plant is crunchy when eaten raw and has an anise flavor. The feathery greens on top of the bulb can be treated like any fresh herb. Here’s a salad that’s a full meal in itself and uses fennel in all of its three forms. Adapted from Deborah Madison’s, The Greens Cook Book, here's

Fennel & Mushroom Salad, Serves 4 - 6:
9 years ago
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 to 2-½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 strips of lemon peel, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed under a spoon or in a mortar
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces large, firm mushrooms, wiped clean
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon fennel greens, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 to 3 ounces Parmesan Reggiano, shaved into paper-thin slices.

Pound the garlic and the salt in a mortar until completely smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel, fennel seeds, and olive oil to make a tart, lemony vinaigrette.

9 years ago

Pound the garlic and the salt in a mortar until completely smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel, fennel seeds, and olive oil to make a tart, lemony vinaigrette.

Thinly slice the mushrooms, carefully dress them with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and season them with plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Lay a damp kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap directly over them to keep them from browning, and set them aside for 1 hour to marinate.

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Trim the fennel bulb and cut it into quarters. Remove most of the core; then slice it lengthwise, very thinly, leaving the pieces joined together. Dress it with most of the remaining vinaigrette and half the herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the herbs to the mushrooms.

Layer the mushrooms, cheese, and fennel on each plate and spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the top.

9 years ago

Layer the mushrooms, cheese, and fennel on each plate and spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the top.

Herbs in Non Vegetable Salads


There’s a whole range of great salads that are not based on greens or vegetables, rather on fruits, grains, and legumes. Herbs can amplify flavor in these as well. To illustrate, and get you thinking about some possibilities, here are three recipes that highlight three different herbs with their soul mates:

This post was modified from its original form on 18 May, 16:15
9 years ago

Cardamom Fruit Salad With Cardamom Sauce, adapted from Miloradovich, P. 103, Serves 4:



  • 1 large banana
  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 1 large orange
  • 1 large apple
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom seed, whole
  • Juice of one lemon


Slice the banana and section the grapefruit and orange. Peel and slice the apple. Combine the fruits and toss lightly with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the cardamom seed on top of the fruit and refrigerate.

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Prepare the Cardamom Sauce as follows:


  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup clover honey
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 6 large mint leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


Blend the water, honey, and cardamom in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over a low flame and bring just up the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the mint leaves and salt. Simmer for an additional 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the sauce to come to room temperature.

This post was modified from its original form on 20 May, 10:17
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When ready to serve, drain the fruit, adding two tablespoons of fruit juice to the sauce. Arrange the fruit over lettuce leaves or divide among individual bowls. Pour the cardamom sauce over the fruit.

This recipe for Hummus illustrates how well cumin works with dried legumes, in this case chickpeas.


  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup “tahini” or sesame paste, (you can substitute peanut butter)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 cups chickpeas, canned, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Paprika to garnish
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Place the garlic, lemon juice, and tahini in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process to a smooth paste. Add the water and chickpeas and process until the mixture is smooth, almost fluffy. Add the cumin and salt, and process again to combine with the chickpeas. Taste, and add additional cumin and salt if desired.

Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl. Pour the oil on the top and swirl lightly with the tip of a knife. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve with pita triangles.

Besides allowing parsley to come into its own as an ingredient rather than a garnish, this recipe for Tabbouleh shows how well mint and parsley work together. It also highlights bulgur – an overlooked grain that cooks very easily and has a great nutty flavor:

9 years ago
  • 1 cup bulgur, (fine if available)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, strained
  • Salt, to taste

Soak the bulgur in cold water, to cover, for half an hour. This is all the cooking the bulgur needs. Strain, and squeeze as much of the moisture out as possible. In a bowl, combine the bulgur with the onion, parsley, and mint.

Sprinkle the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt over the salad, toss, and refrigerate until chilled.

9 years ago

For Herbs and Spices that work especially well with Salads and Salad Dressings, see Miloradovich, P 6.

For a quick lesson on Vinaigrettes, see Trotter, P. 110-111.

For more on sesame tahini, - which is now usually available in stores - see A Pinch Of..., which includes an interesting recipe for tahini ice cream!

     Still more to come!

9 years ago
Lesson 6: Breads

To discuss baking with herbs and spices, this lesson will focus on breads using illustrative recipes. We’re going to start with pizza and focaccia, discuss classic yeast breads, and end up with quick breads.


Pizza & Focaccia

Pizza and Focaccia are great breads to start with when you want to use more herbs and spices in baking. Both almost cry out for herbal or spicy flavors - think of the ubiquitous jar of red pepper flakes at pizza houses. There is relatively little difference between pizza and focaccia, in fact, I use the same basic dough recipe for both.

9 years ago

If the bread’s going to be an accompaniment to a meal, then I make focaccia. With pizza, I only allow the dough to rise one time, but with focaccia, I let the dough rise a second time since the end result should be thicker than pizza. Also, the herbs are incorporated directly in the dough as well as sprinkled on top, along with olive oil and maybe sautéed onions.


Unless I’m going to use the focaccia to make sandwiches, I form the dough in a flat circle which has a 9” diameter. The pie is then freely placed on a baking sheet. Focaccia does makes great sandwich bread – it will rise enough in the oven to be sliced horizontally. If it’s designated for sandwiches, instead of forming the dough in a circle, bake the dough in a heavily oiled jelly roll pan.

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Pizza, by contrast, is rolled out after only one rising so it will not rise as much in the oven as focaccia. Also, since it’s really a full meal, there are lots more topping possibilities. But as with so much in the kitchen, once you know the basics – in this case how to manipulate the dough - there are no rules and you can revise the dish to suit your own preferences.

Also, while I’m going to give you a full recipe for a rosemary focaccia, including the dough, do not overlook the availability of premade pizza dough in the grocery store. Add herbs to that dough, roll it out and bake it. It will still make great bread and the fresh herbs you add will make the bread seem homemade.

9 years ago

But if you can, try the homemade dough once even if you have a fear of working with a yeast dough. One thing that makes pizza/focaccia less intimidating is that kneading is much less important than with other yeast breads. Kneading helps develop gluten, i.e. the protein structure that holds up risen bread. As pizza/focaccia dough does not rise much, a lot of kneading is not required. In fact, in the recipe below, almost all the kneading is done by the food processor.


Rosemary Focaccia



This will make a 9” circle, enough to serve 4 – 6:


  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package instant dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups water, (use spring water if your water has off flavors like chlorine)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons or more (by taste) of chopped rosemary, (possible other herbs include sage, parsley, chives, tarragon, cilantro, or savory).
  • Cornmeal for use on the baking sheet
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Add the flour, yeast, and salt to a food processor outfitted with a steel blade and pulse several times to mix. Pour in the water and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse until the flour begins to cling together, and then let the machine run for 20 seconds. Dump the dough into a large enough bowl so that it can comfortably rise to twice its volume. Let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes while you’re washing and chopping the herbs.

Divide the chopped herbs into two equal portions and reserve one portion to use for a topping. Turn the rested dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the non-reserved herbs into the dough, slowly incorporating all of them into the dough. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let the dough double in size. This should take 1 ½ - 2 hours.

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When the dough has doubled, turn the dough back onto the floured surface and punch it down. Shape it into a ball and press it out to form a 9” circle. Sprinkle a little raw corn meal on a baking sheet and put the circle of dough on the sheet. Recover it with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.



About 20 minutes before the dough is ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the dough is risen, just before baking, use your finger to poke holes through the dough, almost to the bottom. Coat the dough with the rest of the olive oil. Sprinkle the reserved herbs over the surface along with some kosher salt.

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Bake the focaccia for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees. After another 10 minutes, check to see if the bread is done. The best way to determine if the focaccia is done, (and in fact if any bread is done) is by temperature. Using an instant read thermometer, the temperature in the thickest part should read 200 degrees. If it is not done, and the bottom of the bread is turning too dark, turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and check after another ten minutes.

Classic Yeast Breads

Besides adding to the flavor of breads, herbs and spices add a wonderful aroma to bread baking – think of how the house smells with cinnamon raisin bread in the oven. Besides adding to flavor and aroma, herbs and spices can have other effects.

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Shirley Colleher in her book, Cookwise, reports that some spices encourage activity in yeast. She specifically mentions ginger, caraway, cardamom, cloves, mace, nutmeg and thyme. Cinnamon, like salt, in small amounts (1/4 teaspoons/one cup of flour) will also enhance yeast production; but in larger amounts it, again like salt, will retard yeast. Another seasoning that retards yeast is dry mustard. A second effect that some herbs like fenugreek (an Indian spice often found in curry) and rosemary have on bread is to act as a preservative.

When thinking of combining herbs and spices with breads, one of the easiest approaches is to top the dough with seeds. Long before we learned how to use sesame seeds in Oriental dishes, we were introduced to them as the little white seeds which top a MacDonald’s hamburger bun

9 years ago

To add seeds as a topping is simple – you can push them into the dough a little before baking. Alternatively, before the bread goes into the oven, brush the top with egg white which has been mixed with a little water. Not only will the seeds stick on, but the bread will develop a wonderfully golden brown color. Milk also works to enhance the bread’s color, but is not as good a glue for the seeds.

Next time you reach for the sesame seeds to top a loaf of bread, try some of these substitutes:



  • Anise seeds for a licorice flavor
  • Caraway seeds, classically paired with rye breads, but also good for hearty whole wheat
  • Celery seeds, especially good on bread sticks that are going to be put into a vegetable dip
  • Fennel seeds, also for a licorice taste
  • Poppy seeds, especially on slight sweetened breads
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But if you really like the taste, don’t stop at topping breads with seeds – blend them right into the dough. To really accentuate the flavor, use both whole seeds and ground seeds. Ground or powdered seed will disseminate the flavor more effectively through the dough.



To illustrate, here’s a recipe for dinner rolls from my Irish Mother-in-law, which I think actually are Swedish in origin. She got the recipe from her Mother who was raised by a Swedish family. These rolls combine caraway and raisin for a tasty combination, but you can eliminate the raisins if you want an entirely savory roll.

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Caraway Rolls


  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water, e.g. between 105 and 115 degrees
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seed
  • 1 tablespoon caraway powder
  • 1 ½ cups raisins (optional)

Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. While the milk is heating, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, the salt, molasses, and shortening and stir until the sugar dissolves and the shortening melts. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the liquid to cool to lukewarm.

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Warm the bowl of a standup mixer by rinsing it with hot water. Put in the yeast, the other teaspoon of sugar, and the warm water. Allow the yeast to proof for 5 minutes.

Add the milk and 3 cups of flour, and mix slowly for one minute. Add ½ cup more of flour, the caraway seeds, the caraway powder, and the raisins and mix about 2 minutes more. If the dough clings to the hook and cleans the side of the bowl, do not add more flour. Otherwise, add the rest of the flour. Process at a medium speed about 2 minutes more or until the dough is smooth and elastic – it will be slightly sticky.

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Put the dough in a greased bowl, turning the dough around to get the grease all over the surface. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place about 1 hour, or until doubled. Turn the bread out of the bowl and divide the dough into twelve even portions; (I do this by weight). Form each of the pieces of dough into 12 balls and put the balls in a 10 inch round cake pan. You will need to squeeze them a bit to fit them in – they’re supposed to be pressing against each other. Recover the bowl with the damp towel and let the rolls rise for another hour.

About 20 minutes before the rolls are finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you want the rolls to have a shiny color, combine an egg white with a teaspoon of water and brush this on top of the rolls. Bake the rolls for 45 minutes or until the top is shiny and the temperature in the center of one of the rolls is 200 degrees. When finished, turn the clump of rolls onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely. Tear each roll off as desired.

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Quick Breads

Quick breads are breads that are not leavened by yeast, rather usually with baking soda or powder. They don’t need kneading nor require time to rise. They tend to be denser than yeast breads and take especially well to a variety of flavorings. Quick breads can be savory – Irish soda bread, biscuits, and corn bread are classic savory quick breads. They can also be sweet, like gingerbread or banana bread. Many quick breads, to my mind, are sweet enough to be almost cakes.

9 years ago

If you would like to learn a lot more about quick breads, we have a great course at An Introduction to Quick Breads. The course author also recently posted the recipe for a delicious, classic Pain d’Espices, a spiced quick bread that highlights the remarkable mutual affinity of cardamom and cinnamon, see Pain d'Espices.

Quick breads are remarkably versatile. Because they do not rise before baking, they can easily incorporate various kinds of flours like rye, corn and oatmeal that can’t develop the gluten yeast breads require. They also take especially well to seasonings, including not only herbs and spices but fruits, nuts, cheese, and various sweetening agents like molasses or honey. The classic baking spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice are great in quick breads. Most people have recipes for favorites like banana bread or corn bread; if not the bibliography can refer you to several sources.

9 years ago

I thought we’d explore one savory option that is a little less familiar but equally delicious, i.e. quick breads made with cheese and herbs. These breads make great brunch options and are also good for hors d’eourves. Or, after dinner, serve slices of the bread with a cheese and wine course.

To incorporate cheese into a quick bread there are a couple of rules of thumb. First, you do need a lot of cheese for the flavor to come out. If you don’t have enough, maximize flavor by putting the cheese on the top of the bread 10 or so minutes before the bread is baked. Secondly, use strong cheeses – for example, use extra sharp cheddar cheese rather than regular cheddar.

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Cheddar cheese is one of the best cheeses to use, as it combines very well with a variety of herbs and spices, especially:



  • Peppers, including paprika, hot peppers like jalapeno and cayenne, and ground black pepper
  • Hot spices like ginger or mustard
  • Sage
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Fennel
9 years ago


Other good herbal and cheese matches include:


  • Basil with Mozzarella or Parmesan
  • Caraway with Muenster Dill with Swiss Cheese
  • Parsley with Swiss
  • Muenster with hot peppers


The following recipe brings in all of the flexible elements we’ve discussed, i.e. using different flours, cheeses and herbs. It’s from the classic, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book:

9 years ago

Cheese Muffins


  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk


  • 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed or parsley
  • OR
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard


  • 2 cups rolled oats, ground in a food processor to make a flour
  • 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line each cup with paper liner.

In a large bowl, beat the chives, butter or oil, and egg together. Stir in the buttermilk, cheese and herb.

In a medium bowl, sift the oat flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together. Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture, stirring just until combined.

With an ice cream scoop, spoon some of the batter into each muffin cup. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.

9 years ago

For more on bread baking with whole grains, see Robertson, Flinders, and Godfrey’s, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, Random House, 1984.

For an all around excellent book on baking, see Sands, The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, Countryman Press, 1990. You can order the book at King Arthur Flour’s web site. At this site, you’ll also find everything you need for baking, including equipment, baking spices and seasonings, and recipes.

9 years ago

For a great course on quick breads here at SuiteU, see An Introduction to Quick Breads


For more bread and baking recipes on the Web, see Joy of Baking


Lesson 7: Beverages

Have you ever come across the word “tisane” in an Agatha Christie novel and wondered what it was? In this chapter, we’re going to discuss tisanes, aka “herbal teas”.

9 years ago
Tisanes, or Herbal Teas

The phrase “herbal teas” has become a generic term for herbs and spices steeped in hot water – whether or not tea leaves are also used. These beverages are also called “tonics” or “tisanes”, the latter term was originally a French word for an herbal infusion that had beneficial or healthful properties. Since I think “tisane” is a charming old world word and since the phrase “herbal tea” is misleading, I’m going to use “tisane” for this beverage category, as Hercules Poirot did throughout his Agatha Christie mysteries.



We’ll touch briefly below on herbs used in teas for health benefits. I should also insert a word of caution. While I strongly encourage you to be innovative in making tisanes– the process is easy and readily adapted across a variety of herbs – there are some herbs that will make you ill. And herbal effects can vary from person to person. So use common sense – if the drink smells or tastes bad – don’t drink it – even if you’ve been told it “will be good for you”.

9 years ago

Making a tisane with herbs is just like making regular tea. After bringing water to a rolling boil, use a little of the hot water to rinse a nonmetal teapot. If you’re using fresh or dried herbs, add them in a ratio of 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried herb for each cup of water, plus an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried herb “for the pot”. Pour in the boiling water, cover the pot, and let the tisane steep for at least 5 minutes. Taste, and let steep for longer if desired. If you’re going to make an iced tisane, double the amount of herbs used as the ice cubes you add to the drink will dilute the drink


For tisanes made with spices - crushed seeds and roots – heat the water in a saucepan. Add the spice directly to the boiling water, let it simmer for five minutes, and then let it steep, covered, for an additional five minutes. Strain both herbal and root tisanes after steeping.

9 years ago

Rodale’s Herb book has a good list for suggested tisane blends, as does Miloradovich. Here are some of their suggestions, using some of the more unusual herbs:



  • Chamomile and apple mint
  • Fennel and goldenrod
  • Chicory, ginseng and cinnamon
  • Basil, lemon verbena, lemongrass, and lemon thyme
  • Sage, mint, and lemon thyme
  • Rosemary and lavender
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To help you choose, I’ve listed some of the healthy benefits that are reputed to go with individual herbs and spices:

  • Chamomile – for stomach aches
  • Anise Seed – for insomnia
  • Cloves, saffron, garlic – to act as an aphrodisiac
  • Ginger – for energy
  • Mustard – to lift your spirits
  • Cumin, coriander, cayenne, and fennel – for indigestion and gas
  • Thyme, sage, ginger, garlic– to fight cold and flu symptoms
  • Rosemary – to increase circulation thereby warming you up
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Miloradovich, Chapter 11, “Herb Teas and Spiced Beverages” Pp.179-183.

Rodale, “Teas From Herbs”, Pp. 484-486.

Lesson 8: Garnishing, Special Dishes, & Herbal Desserts

This lesson will start with garnishing, including instructions on frying herbs and frosting mint leaves. I'll give recipes for some classic herb sauces (pesto, gremolada, and salsa verde), as well as two personal favorite dishes of mine, gravlax and risotto Milanese, (saffron risotto). We’ll end up with dessert - only these desserts will use leafy herbs, not the traditional dessert spices.

9 years ago
Lesson 8: Garnishing, Special Dishes, & Herbal Desserts

This lesson will start with garnishing, including instructions on frying herbs and frosting mint leaves. I'll give recipes for some classic herb sauces (pesto, gremolada, and salsa verde), as well as two personal favorite dishes of mine, gravlax and risotto Milanese, (saffron risotto). We’ll end up with dessert - only these desserts will use leafy herbs, not the traditional dessert spices.



Herbs and some spices make some of the best garnishes in the world. Below are some general garnishing tips:

9 years ago
  • Do not decorate with anything inedible, (except perhaps for birthday candles and toys on children’s cakes). You introduce an artificial element that does nothing to excite taste buds and often clashes with the underlying food. Herbs are obviously edible; but make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides.

  • Any edible garnish should be compatible with the underlying food. A safe way to insure compatibility is to echo one of the ingredients used in the dish, i.e. use the same ingredient but perhaps in a different form. For a chicken dish in which rosemary has been used, top the chicken with a sprig of rosemary. Alternatively, garnish with a natural complement, e.g. basil on fish dressed with a tomato sauce. Chopped parsley would look pretty on a cheesecake, but is obviously incompatible.
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  • Complex dishes require simple garnishes; simple dishes can handle more complex garnishes. Simple chopped parsley on a beef stew makes sense, just as a combination of finely chopped tomatoes, carrots, and chopped coriander would top a plain chicken breast more effectively than just one of those elements.

  • Bring out platters. We all have platters, usually gifts or some that came in dish sets. When serving even a weekday meal, put both the meat dish and accompanying vegetable on the same platter, arranged pleasingly. Don’t crowd the platter, and when choosing the dishes, remember contrasting color. White mashed potatoes surrounding a plate of chicken breasts are not that exciting. Put a row of glazed carrots between the two, and some green herbs around the edge and a simple meal looks very festive.
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  • Think natural color. Using real flowers to decorate cakes, salads, soups, etc. provides vibrant natural coloring that is eye pleasing and easy. Two personal favorites are flowers from chives and lavender. The star anise referred to in Lesson 7 would look great floating on a bowl of pea soup.

  • Use an odd number of pieces on the food or on the plate, i.e. one or three sage leaves or mint sprigs, not two or four. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye.
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For a unique and delicious fried garnish, wash and dry whole basil or sage leaves, or sprigs of parsley, tarragon, marjoram, and cilantro. In a small bowl or on a small plate, season flour with salt and pepper. Dip the herbs in the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Heat 2 inches of canola oil to 285 degrees in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Lower the leaves gently into the oil, and fry until golden. Drain on a folded paper towel.


Frosted mint leaves are very easy to make and are wonderful on chocolate cake, especially a Yule log at Christmas time. Put a cooling or other heatproof rack on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of water with one egg white. Shake a layer of superfine sugar on a plate – either buy superfine sugar or grind up regular sugar in a food processor. Holding the mint leaf at one end either with your fingers or with tweezers, dip the leaf first in the egg white, then roll it in the sugar. Lay the coated leaf on the rack and repeat with the rest of the leaves. Bake in a very low, 200-degree oven, until dry but not browned.

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Classic Sauces

In this section we’re going to look at making three classic herbal sauces: pesto, gremolada, and salsa verde. I’ve given suggestions of possible uses, but once you’ve mastered these, I’m sure you’ll think of a lot of others.


Pesto is probably the best reason for growing your own basil – pesto’s popularity is certainly driving the increased availability of fresh basil in grocery stores. Originally invented in the Ligurian section of Italy and used as a pasta dressing, pesto is now a popular spread for sandwiches, hamburgers, or as a sauce on chicken and fish. Nothing to me means summer as much as the smell of pesto:

9 years ago
  • 2 cups fresh basil, packed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, (walnuts can be substituted)
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt, to taste

In a food processor, chop the garlic and basil. With the motor running, add the oil gradually. When the oil is completely absorbed, add the pine nuts until coarsely chopped.

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Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the grated Parmesan. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if necessary.


Gremolada was invented in Milano and is the classic accompaniment to the braised veal shank dish, Osso Buco. Once you’ve tasted it though, a number of other uses will come to mind. One possibility is to mix it into mashed potatoes or rice. Stir a little into tomato soup. Add some to mayonnaise on your next tuna fish sandwich.

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • Rind of ½ lemon, grated
  • 1 anchovy fillet, rinsed
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Mash the anchovy to a paste and mix thoroughly with the parsley, lemon, and anchovy.

Salsa Verde segregates the strongest elements of the classic tomato salsa for a vibrant sauce that should not be just used as a dip. Try it on fish fillets, e.g. tilapia, chicken breasts, or on top of fried eggs. Stir it into V8 juice with some diced cucumbers and bell peppers to make a unique gazpacho.

  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup green chiles, chopped
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
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In a food processor, add the minced garlic and cilantro, and pulse until blended. Add the chilies, lime juice, salt and pepper, and puree to a chunky sauce consistency.


You can adjust the heat of this sauce by using different types of chilies – use jalapenos for a little more heat.

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Gravlax and Saffron Risotto

Gravlax, usually used as an appetizer, is raw salmon marinated in a dry cure of salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is one of my favorite entertaining dishes, as it is so easy to make and creates such a strong impression. The name means “salmon from the grave” referring to the Swedish practice of burying cured salmon in the ground to preserve it. You need to start four days before serving, although actual preparation time is minimal.

  • A 3-pound salmon fillet, with the skin on
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • Fresh dill, at least 1 cup packed
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Cut the salmon fillet in half, crossways. Place one fillet, skin side down, on a piece of cheesecloth, (preferably) or plastic wrap. Place the other fillet, also skin side down, next to the first fillet. Mix the salt and sugar in a small bowl, and work the mixture into the top of both pieces. Sprinkle on the Cognac or vodka, if using. Place all the dill on top of one of the salmon pieces lying on the cheesecloth. Cover the dill with the other salmon fillet, so that the skin side of the second fillet is on top.

Using the cheesecloth, wrap the two pieces together – essentially making what looks like a dill sandwich. Put the salmon package on a sheet pan or some container big enough to hold the salmon and that has an edge to hold the liquid that will exude. If using cheesecloth, cover the container with plastic wrap.

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Now you need to weigh the salmon down. Lay a board, or cookie sheet or any flat object on top of the salmon, and pile on heavy objects, like cans or a brick. Since you’re going to keep this in the refrigerator, I usually just pile on containers that are already there. Turn the salmon every 24 hours and baste with any exuded liquid.


Taste a small piece after 48 hours to see if you want any additional salt or sugar – this recipe makes a lightly salted gravlax. To serve, separate the two fillets and brush off the dill. Place on a cutting board with the skin side down. Slice the filet very thinly on the diagonal down to, but not through, the skin. Gravlax can be personalized to match individual preference, using more salt, sugar, or other types of liquor.

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Risotto alla Milanese

I couldn’t finish the course without something that uses saffron – the most expensive food, by weight, in the world. When you cook with saffron, it should be the highlight of the dish, and I know of no better dish than the following classic risotto, serves 4 - 6:


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1-quart chicken stock, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
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Crush the saffron between your finger and put in a small bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of warm water. Set aside, and heat the chicken stock.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft and golden. Add the rice, and stir to coat all the grains.

Add the wine and ¾ cup of stock, stirring constantly until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue to add the stock in ¾ cup increments. The next addition should be added when the stirring spoon parts the rice down the middle of the pan, and the rice flows back over the exposed part of the pan very slowly. When you’ve used up all the chicken stock, taste to make certain the rice is cooked through. The risotto should still be creamy.

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Just before serving, add the saffron, cheese, butter if using, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Herbal Desserts

How else could we close up this course, except with desserts? Conventionally, desserts are associated solely with spices – cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, etc. but I thought we’d be experimental and look at herbs. Before I give you recipes for two of my favorite herbal desserts, here’s Charlie Trotter, author of one of our books, Gourmet Cooking for Dummies, on using herbs in desserts.

9 years ago

“Herbs are another way to add flavor and interest to desserts, but they very often get overlooked. Herbs are extremely versatile; they can be infused into ice creams, sorbets, or custards. They can be made into syrups, or added to doughs. They can be candied or tossed in powdered sugar to use as a garnish. No matter how they are used, they add a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved any other way.


When working with herbs in desserts you need to match the strength of the herb to the strength of the accompanying items. The flavors should complement one another without one overpowering the other. For example, stronger herbs such as basil or rosemary go well with stronger flavored fruits such as berries or pineapple. Mild-flavored herbs like tarragon and thyme go well with more subtly flavored fruits such as peaches, apricots, pomegranates or plums.

9 years ago

Herbs are a great way to add a new twist to old favorites. Try spooning basil syrup (simple syrup puréed with basil leaves and spinach and then strained) around a strawberry shortcake and garnishing it with tiny basil leaves dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon balm, lemon verbena and lemongrass all make great sorbets or ice creams. They can be served alone, with other sorbets such as pineapple or kaffir lime, or, for a light dessert, try one of them in a warm pineapple soup.


Tarragon is great infused into ice cream or custard and served with slices of more subtly flavored fruit such as plums or pomegranates, with a tarragon syrup spooned around the plate.

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Marjoram and thyme have very delicate flavors which make it difficult to infuse them into ice creams or custards, but, by tossing the small leaves in powdered sugar, they make a stunning garnish that adds a hint of flavor to any berry dish.


Even herbs that are considered more savory, such as rosemary, can be great in desserts. For a great combination, try infusing rosemary into ice cream and serving it with a strawberry-rhubarb crisp.”

9 years ago

Rosy Mousse, Serves 6



The first recipe I’m going to give you uses thyme. Use this dish whenever you might think jello – it is much better and the thyme adds an unfamiliar but fragrant addition. I copied it from a magazine some 25 years ago, and unfortunately can’t credit the source. This recipe also is quite low fat; only 9% of the calories are from fat and there are only 63 calories per serving.



  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 1 ½ cups red grape juice
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
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In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and allow it to rehydrate. In a medium saucepan, bring the grape juice to a simmer. Add the sugar and thyme and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and add the vanilla.

Strain the juice mixture into the gelatin bowl and beat until the gelatin is dissolved. Refrigerate until the mixture just begins to set, about 1 hour.

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Beat the mixture again until frothy, and mix in the yogurt. Pour in a mold sprayed with a little vegetable oil, cover, and refrigerate overnight.



Rosemary Snaps (10 –12 dozen)



This recipe uses rosemary in a cookie. It comes from King Arthur Flour, and is adapted from their variation of a classic gingersnap.

9 years ago


  • 1 ½ cups, (3 sticks) butter, brought to room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup dark unsulphured molasses
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 – 6 teaspoons rosemary, crushed or powdered
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, or prepare the dough a day ahead and chill before baking.

In a large, standup mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one a time, and continue to beat in until each egg is mixed well. Add the molasses and continue to beat until well combined.

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Sift together the flour, soda, salt, rosemary, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.



Roll nickel-sized pieces of dough into balls between the palms of your hands. Then roll them in granulated sugar and place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

9 years ago

Here are four comprehensive web sources for more recipes and general cooking advice:

All Recipes

Recipe Source


The Food Network


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