Herbal harvest for tasty meals

If you have a pot or patch of herbs growing in your garden, August is the time to start harvesting. When I say herbs, I mean the flavourful, edible leaves of plants such as parsley, chives, basil, tarragon, oregano, dill and so on.

A simple snip of the scissors will do the trick for harvesting, then wash well in several changes of cool water and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner. (Much easier than trying to dry with numerous tea towels!)

Many people are used to the old-fashioned technique of preserving herbs by drying. This is done by tying in a bunch with string and hanging upside down to dry in an airy room, usually the kitchen. This process will take several days or a week to have the bunch of herbs dried thoroughly.

Although drying works well, you lose some of the essential oils in the herb. The oils are what gives it flavour and you will definitely lose most of the vibrant colour. Freezing is faster, and it is done immediately unlike drying, which takes several days. By freezing you definitely have the intense taste of “just picked.”

My favourite technique is to finely chop the clean, dry leaves of the herb and measure out the chopped herb in quarter-cup or four tablespoon (60 mL) quantities, useful for most recipes, then wrap in plastic wrap to produce a small flat, square package.

Pack like packages in a freezer bag, date, label and freeze for up to one year. You will have the flavour and colour of a just-picked herb.

One edible herb that is frequently forgotten is lavender. Lavender smells and looks wonderful, but tastes great too. Harvest the vibrant blue-purple blooms of lavender at their prime and freeze or dry them by tying in a bunch and hanging upside down, then store in a jar for cooking fragrant and tasty treats.

Be sure your lavender is pesticide free before using in cooking. Lavender you grow in your own garden without pesticides is considered “food grade” and is safe to eat.

Add preserved lavender to shortbread, salad dressings and ice cream, not to mention the recipe that follows – it tastes divine!

Chicken with Honey and Lavender

This recipe from Foodland Ontario produces sweet and tasty thighs ideal for an easy summer dinner. Serve with a salad and crusty bread.

Marinade:

1 tbsp (15 mL) grated lemon rind

1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice

3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 tsp (20 mL) food-grade dried lavender

1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsp (10 mL) finely chopped fresh thyme

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper

Chicken:

1/3 cup (80 mL) liquid honey (local)

1 tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard

2 lbs (1 kg) boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon rind, lemon juice, oil, garlic, lavender, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Remove 2 tbsp (30 mL) marinade and set aside.

Add the remaining marinade to a heavy freezer plastic bag and add the chicken thighs massaging the thighs with the marinade. Refrigerate an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400°F (220°C). Remove the chicken thighs to a 13 by 9 inch (3 L) baking dish. Arrange in a single layer, spooning some of the marinade over thighs. Discard remaining marinade. Bake chicken covered for 30 minutes, basting with pan juices about half way through cooking.

In small bowl, whisk the reserved marinade with the honey and mustard until smooth. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). Brush the chicken with the sauce and bake about 14 to 20 minutes, uncovered, until internal temperature of the thighs reaches 165°F (74°C) or juices run clear. Serve immediately, or at room temperature. Makes six servings.


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