Meet the savories, beans’ BFFs

’Tis the season for announcements of “The 2015 [whatever] of the Year.” Depending on your interests, this is the Year of Light (United Nations), of Soils (UN again, its Food and Agriculture Organization) of the Coleus and of the Sweet Pepper (the last two declared by the U.S. National Garden Bureau).

The Perennial Plant Association has chosen Geranium ‘Biokovo’ as its plant of the year 2015. (Don’t get this confused with the bright annual geraniums you see everywhere in pots. Perennial geraniums have much smaller, flatter flowers, and grow into low, spreading mounds.) And, of course, it’s also the Chinese Year of the Ram/Sheep.

If you’re a cook or a herb grower, though, you’ll want to know that the Herb of the Year, chosen by the International Herb Association, is savory. (Yes, that’s how even Canadians spell it.)

Savouring the pleasures of savory

Winter lemon savory looks like plain winter savory, but has a clean lemon scent. PHOTO: Richters Herbs
Winter lemon savory looks like plain winter savory, but has a clean lemon scent.
PHOTO: Richters Herbs

Chuck Voight, longtime member of the IHA, explained the choice to me at the association’s conference in Toronto last July. “We look for herbs that are notable in two of three categories: medicinal, culinary and decorative. And we try to alternate between the categories from year to year.”

This year’s choice isn’t very well known, but it’s a winner in the kitchen. And you can choose from two main types: summer savory, mild and sweetly aromatic, and winter savory, with a stronger taste that adds flavour to hearty dishes. The two are more or less interchangeable, but you’d likely go for summer savory in egg dishes and salads, and use winter savory with meats.

Winter savory is also invaluable with beans. Long ago, Conrad Richter, of Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ont., introduced me to “bohnenkraut” (“bean herb”), as he called it. It adds zing to those sometimes-bland recipes for dried beans, including cold bean salad. (See recipe.) Use it fresh or dried, but less if dried, because drying makes the flavour stronger.

Unlike many herbs, both winter and summer savory hold their flavour when they’re dried. They’re both easy to grow, too.

Grow your own herbs

The savories are sun-lovers and want regular watering, but not wet feet, so add compost or leaf mould when you plant them. Winter savory (Satureija montana) becomes a small, sturdy shrub. A perennial, it should return from year to year in our area.

Summer savory (Satureija hortensis) is an annual and will need to be started from seed or a new plant every year. It grows fast and tall, to about 60 cm.

Besides the two basic savories, you can also find special varieties like lemon savory and creeping savory, if you want to expand your herb garden. All of them will reward you with dainty white to bluish flowers that attract bees.

To learn more about the savory herbs, go to the IHA’s website, www.iherb.org and www.richters.com. Richters will also be celebrating savory at its Herb Day, May 3, with a cooking competition and talks.

Mary Fran’s easy bean salad

Vary quantities according to your own preferences, and you can add salt and pepper to individual servings.

3 cups mixed kidney and garbanzo beans, fresh-cooked or canned
Half a large white, sweet or red onion, chopped
2/3 cup celery, finely chopped
Half a large green pepper, coarsely chopped (more if you like green pepper)
Leaves of six stems of parsley, minced
Two tablespoons fresh winter savory, finely chopped (or 2 ½ teaspoons dried and crushed)
At least 1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
tablespoon wine vinegar

Mix beans, onion, celery and green pepper in large serving bowl. Sprinkle herbs over and stir to mix. Add olive oil and wine vinegar and stir gently to mix all ingredients. Taste and add seasonings, oil and vinegar as needed. Chill for several hours if possible and serve.


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