Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Review - Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs

I was cruising for cookbooks recently and found one written by the Herb Society of America that is so much more than a simple cookbook I thought herby people needed to know about it.  It is entitled Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs.

Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs
Ed. By Katherine Schlosser
(Louisiana State University Press, 2007)

The book is unique in that in addition to the hordes of recipes in the book it also has a short history of the origin and planning to for National Herb Garden which is located at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. which opened in 1980.  The garden, which is the largest planned herb garden in the world, is in the wonderful shape of a skeleton key with a ring of theme gardens and a long path and an entrance knot garden.

The book gives a short history of the origin and planning of the garden and its funding, then wraps with a long chapter (at least 60 pages) that details all the theme gardens and sections of the herb garden.  It has great ideas if you are contemplating a theme of any kind.  One of the gardens is a Dioscrides Garden using the writings in his 5 volume De Meteria Medica written in the first century A.D.  It was a comprehensive book about botany and pharmacy that was consulted for centuries and resulted in the idea that plant study and the medical uses of plants were indeed two different sciences.  The Garden holds 51 of the plants from De Materia Medica.  In addition to this garden are the 10 theme gardens, ranging from dye, Colonial, medical, beverage, Asian, to Native American.  The descriptions include a plant list which makes them a valuable resource to those wanting to try a theme garden.

The 15 pages of notes and bibliography are also a who’s who of great herb related texts.  And the index sorts by recipes and herbs used.  Before the recipes is a plant listing that is more detailed than most you find in books with almost 100 listings.  It breaks the herbs into two groupings GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) and those that are not GRAS.  I was surprised by some of the herbs listed as not GRAS, but after reading the listings I realized it is perhaps not all about the herb being dangerous as it containing a naturally occurring chemical that in some concentrations has been dangerous, but since no studies can prove the concentration in the plant is dangerous these are just cautions.  At some point I will discuss the herbs in GRAS and where that designation comes from.

Overall this book is a wealth of information on Herbs backed up by the most amazing collection of herbal recipes collected from members of the Herb Society of America all over the country that are both simple and complex and include traditional yet uniquely herbed recipes.  The recipes have a simple herbal elegance and use herbs in many special ways just outside of ordinary, but not difficult.  Here are two that I have adapted from the book.


Summer Iced Tea

2 cups water
1 cup sugar

2 packages of Backyard Patch Shamrock Tea (about 1 cup)
6 oz. frozen lemonade
6 oz. frozen limeade
Juice of 1 orange or lemon

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove sugar syrup from heat and add tea.  Allow to steep 5 to 15 minutes, then strain out the leaves.  Add lemonade, limeade concentrates, and orange (or lemon) juice.  Store well, then add enough water to make one gallon.  Chill until ready to serve.  Can be kept in the refrigerator for several days.

Herbal Asian Chicken Salad with Noodles

I love peanut dressing, especially on Chicken.  When I found this recipe in the book I had to try it.

1 lb. boneless chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup chicken stock
10 oz. noodles (I like rice noodles, but cellophane or angel hair are also good)
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp, orange juice
1 cup bean sprouts
1 romaine heart
1 cucumber skin scratched with a fork and sliced thin
1 carrot diagonal cut
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
2 scallions sliced or a bunch of fresh chives, chopped
½ cup cilantro, chopped

Poach chicken breasts in stock with bay leaves.  Reserve the stock after cooking.  Slice chicken.

Boil noodles.  Rinse under cold water and toss with sesame oil, orange juice and bean sprouts

Slice romaine into ribbons and arrange on 6 individual plates.  Top with noodles and chicken.  Garnish with cucumbers, carrots, red pepper scallions and cilantro.  Serve with Peanut dressing.  Yield 6 servings.

Peanut Dressing

10 Thai basil leaves
½ cup peanut butter
1/3 cup reserved stock
¼ cup light soy sauce
4 Tbls. sesame oil
2 Tbls. minced gingerroot
2 Tbls. minced garlic
2 Tbls. sugar
2 Tbls. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. hot chili oil
¼ cup heavy cream

Blend all ingredients except cream in a food processor.  When well blended, stir in cream.

Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh


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