- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

I am all in favor of herbal remedies — culinary, of course.

A brisk dose of fragrant fresh green herbs is a tonic that brightens many an ailing recipe. Think of roast lamb with its side of mint jelly, and plain steak topped with a brilliant pat of herb butter. Caprese salad of mozzarella and tomato could not exist without basil, nor celery and onion stuffing without a seasoning of sage.

Let’s start off with plain parsley, an underrated ingredient, I think.. Parsley adds bite to dressings, as well as brisk green color.

Just a simple shower of chopped parsley revives many a drab dish at the last minute. Combined with chopped garlic, it takes the lead in persillade, the French flavoring mix designed for vegetables, particularly sauteed mushrooms. For each person, finely chop a garlic clove, then add 3 to 4 sprigs of parsley. Chop again, and add it to the hot food.

Add one more ingredient to persillade — a teaspoon of grated orange or lemon zest — and you have the Italian version, called gremolata, which is so delicious sprinkled on osso buco and other veal dishes.

Green herb gremolata:I’m crazy for this green herb version of gremolata, ideal for sprinkling on sauteed fish or grilled vegetables at the table.

Chop the leaves from a medium bunch of Italian parsley. Mix them in a bowl with the white and green parts of 1 scallion, very thinly sliced on the diagonal; the grated zest of 1 lemon or lime; and 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped. Season with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Parsley salad with sesame: Only five ingredients are needed for this zesty little salad, delicious with charcuterie, cold ham and shellfish, particularly shrimp. I find it invaluable in dressing up an appetizer or light main course.

Heat 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a small, dry frying pan over moderate heat, stirring until brown and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Let them cool. Wash and dry 2 large bunches of parsley. Pull leaves from the stems. For dressing: In a salad bowl, whisk the grated zest and juice of 2 limes with cup mustard seed oil or walnut oil, 1 teaspoons dark sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Add the parsley, toss, and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle salad with the sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.

Fettuccine with lemon and parsley: Here’s my emergency supper of pasta, lemon and parsley, ingredients you’ll likely have around.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add 1 pound fettuccine, stir, and boil until al dente, following timing on the package. In a bowl, stir together cup heavy cream, 2 egg yolks, cup grated Parmesan cheese, the juice and grated zest of 1 lemon, and some freshly ground black pepper. The lemon juice will thicken the cream slightly.

Chop a handful of parsley sprigs. Drain the pasta, melt 4 tablespoons butter in the pan, and return the fettuccine to the pan. Add the lemon mixture, and toss over medium heat until coated and hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the parsley, and toss again. Taste, and adjust seasoning, adding a little salt, if necessary. Serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

In cool weather, I keep a pot of parsley in the kitchen, the stems in water, like flowers. In warmer weather, parsley, like other leafy herbs, holds up best in the refrigerator, wrapped loosely in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag. Leafy herbs are best washed just before use: Run them under the tap or swish them in a bowl of cold water, then shake them dry while you hold the stems. If you are about to chop them, mop up remaining dampness by pressing the sprigs between two sheets of paper towel.

Now let’s take a look at cilantro, the parsley of Asia and Latin America, easy to find in ethnic markets. Where parsley has notes of citrus, cilantro is musky and slightly bitter, an ideal companion to tomato, shrimp and chilies, as in this pungent relish.

Cilantro chili relish: Popular in southern India, cilantro relish should be freshly prepared so it bursts with flavor. Pep up your steak or tacos with it, or spread it on flat bread and top it with sliced cucumber for a snack.

Wash and dry the leaves from a large bunch of cilantro. Put them in a processor with 3 medium jalapeno or serrano chilies, cored, seeded and cut in pieces; cup grated fresh or unsweetened dried coconut; a -inch piece of fresh ginger root, sliced; the juice of 1 lemon; and 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. Puree until the relish is finely chopped, 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small frying pan, and fry 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds until they pop, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour seeds and oil into the relish with the processor blades running, and process just until combined. Chill before serving. Makes 1 cup relish. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Moving on from cilantro, my next choice would be spearmint, which is the common mint we all know. Like parsley, mint is easy to find in stores and holds well for several days, even up to a week.

Have you ever tried substituting it for basil in pesto? I think you’d be surprised by its depth of flavor and peppery bite, which is great with grilled vegetables and, of course, with lamb. Mint is terrific with mango or strawberries. Simply cut the fruit in pieces and sprinkle generously with chopped mint, cracked pepper and sugar, adding just a little sugar for a savory relish and more for a dessert salad to serve with cookies or cake.

Roast halibut with herbal topping: If you like tapenade, you’ll enjoy this topping. The herbal green of mint combined with anchovy adds punch to roast halibut or any white fish.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, put 2 shallots or a small onion, cut in pieces; a small garlic clove, cut in pieces; 2 anchovies, cut in pieces; 2 tablespoons walnut pieces; a handful of mint leaves; 1 teaspoon salt; teaspoon pepper; and 3 tablespoons walnut oil. Puree to a coarse paste. Taste; adjust seasoning. Spread the paste on 4 fillets of halibut (about 1 pounds), and top each with a thin slice of lemon. Bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, 12 to 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Minted mechoui of lamb: Mechoui is the Moroccan way to barbecue leg of lamb, aromatic with spice and slightly charred from the barbecue. Mint adds a fresh tang. I like to serve the lamb with couscous flavored with dried fruits and a salad of sliced tomato and orange.

Mix cup chopped mint, the grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, 4 finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons ground coriander seed, 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and black pepper, teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, and cup olive oil in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over a 4- to 5-pound butterflied leg of lamb. Wrap it in plastic wrap, set it in a dish, and leave it to marinate in the refrigerator 6 to 12 hours.

Light the grill. Brush the grill rack with oil. Sear the lamb over the highest possible heat, turning it so it browns on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Lower grill heat to medium or move the meat farther from heat so it cooks less quickly. Cover with foil, and let the lamb cook, allowing 15 minutes for rare meat, 10 to 15 minutes longer if you prefer it well-done. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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