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Salt+Spine Cookbook Club
aug 1, 2020

Fresh Herbs: A Field of Greens

Last week we hosted our first Cookbook Club Dinner Party with Salt+Spine's Brian Hogan Stewart and July's featured author, Naz Deravian. Naz cooked and chatted with guests about Persian food traditions and ingredients and her beautiful book, Bottom of the Pot. We held our collective breath as some attendees flipped out tahcheens along with Naz and Brian, while others leisurely sipped sharbat or a glass of wine or tea, relishing the glow of a dinner party gathering, extravagance for the soul in socially distant times.
As the evening drew to a close, we grinned along as Naz coerced sweet-talked her husband Drew into demonstrating a bite from his plate, where the accompanying pile of herbs was not a garnish, not a sprinkle, but an essential component of the meal, eaten alongside each bite. Flavorful, palate-awakening, a boon to digestion, the sabzi (green herbs) provide balance on the plate and in our bodies.
Unlike Naz, we grew up without loads of fresh herbs in our diets. As for many suburban kids in the USA of the 1970s and 80s, ours came mostly dried, jarred, and with the dulled sawdusty flavor of venerable old age. We are deeply grateful for the ease with which fresh herbs are procured nowadays, and for cooks and writers like Naz who expand our herb knowledge.
THINGS TO KNOW:
  • BUYING. Save yourself loads of money and needless packaging by purchasing bunches from farmers markets, via a CSA box, or from lots of wonderful grocers. It's also easy to grow your own - we go through phases and are currently determined to replant the herb boxes on our mini (city-sized) deck.
  • WASHING. Our favorite method is submerging in a sink filled partway with cool water (or in the bowl of a salad spinner, for smaller amounts). Fill the sink or bowl first, then dunk the herbs and let them soak. Running a strong stream of water on top of herbs, especially tender types like basil and tarragon, bruises them. Lift them from the water, leaving the dirt or sediment at the bottom of the sink or bowl. Drain and repeat as needed.
  • DRYING. This is so important. Dry fresh herbs thoroughly before storing to prolong their lifespan and prevent rot. Spin them dry in a salad spinner - tuck a clean kitchen towel in the spinner with very tender herbs to cushion them from the centrifugal force. Large quantities? Lay freshly washed herbs out on kitchen towels. Go and do something else while they air dry.
  • STORAGE. We store a lot of herbs at The Civic Kitchen, often 15 or even 25 bunches at once. We've tried many storage methods. The most successful is wrapping the stems of a bunch together snugly in a *barely* damp paper towel, leaving the leaves mostly unwrapped. Nestle them side by side with similarly wrapped herb bunches in a container with the lid slightly ajar (excess condensation = rot). We keep them thus for many days, even weeks. It's crucial that the paper towels are not too wet, lest the herbs get mucky. For fresh basil, trim a bit from the base of their stems before dunking them like a bouquet in an inch of water in a jar on the countertop, or often - with a loose Ziploc bag to protect their leaves from the chill - in the fridge. This also works for parsley, cilantro and sometimes mint. We admit we have mixed results with mint, which sometimes is the heartiest of all herbs (as when it's taking over your garden) and other times behaves like finicky hothouse flowers, ready to wilt the moment you turn your back.
We have previously shared uses for fresh herbs in classic Gremolata and Naz's Sabzi Polo. We love them in Doymaj, the herb dip Najmieh Batmanglij's shared with us while visiting our kitchen last year (and in her superb Fresh Herb Kuku). We pile them into our everyday green salads and on top of grilled fish and vegetables. As Naz says, "Once you start eating this way, you'll be craving the herbs!"
Let us know how it's going in your kitchens with #TCKatHome - we love hearing from you.