PRODUCE AISLE oddball herbs
Uncommon herb applicability
Patty Neumson grew up in Thailand, and she remembers as
a child picking herbs every day from her family’s garden. She
immigrated to the U.S., and eventually opened Herb Restaurant in
Chicago, where she uses only fresh herbs.
One of her go-to items is the heart-shaped betel leaf, native
to Southeast Asia and part of the pepper family. It can be added
to soups, curry-based recipes and grilled meat, imparting a
peppery/mint taste. She uses the herb as the vessel for miang
kham, a one-bite starter. The leaf is topped with grated coconut,
diced ginger, roasted peanuts, diced shallot, chopped Thai chili
pepper, lime cubes and caramel palm sugar sauce. “The herb
can be used in a number of American contemporary recipes for
an added layer of flavor, and mixed into salads for texture and
flavor,” Neumson says.
She also uses red and white holy basil—bai gaprow —in dishes
that range from chicken stir-fry to soups. When freshly picked, the
aromatic leaves hold a spicy, peppery bite with a combination of
basil and mint. The herb doesn’t have much taste when raw, but its
fragrance and taste become particularly pronounced in cooking.
Flamm at Spiaggia says, “Italian food is about simplicity
and restraint. Cooking with herbs reinforces that cooking
philosophy, especially when the recipe includes pasta and they
add an element of freshness, brightness and greenness to a dish.”
Some herbs are best used as a garnish, as in Spiaggia’s mushroom
ravioletteo with taleggio cheese. Flamm uses nepitella because it’s
goes with anything savory, from roasts to mushrooms. It grows wild
in Italy, and the plant’s green leaves have a strong, distinctive flavor
that’s a cross between mint and oregano. “The minty flavor of the
herb cuts through the richness of the taleggio and the earthiness of
the mushroom,” he says. “The herb can be applied to all cuisines with recipes that include mint and/or
oregano and those with beef, lamb, fish, beans, eggplant, green vegetables or potatoes.”
At Citizen Rail, Graves uses uncommon herbs across the menu. Sorrel, which is like a lemony
spinach with a sour/acid, bright flavor, is mixed with dandelion greens and dressed with lemon
oil. The salad is a paired with coal-roasted butternut and open-fire grilled kabocha with blistered
romesco, popped amaranth and green goddess dressing. “The sorrel helps offset the sweet flavors
from the squash, and it gives a chop in the throat, like a kind of ‘pow,’” he says.
Borage flowers garnish blanched asparagus dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon juice. The
herb adds bitterness, subtle floral and honeysuckle sweetness. “There’s a lemon and salt profile
going in one direction, and then there’s the borage flowers going in another direction, but the two
different flavors create harmony,” Graves says.
Dried fenugreek leaves are mixed with cauliflower tabbouleh, which adds musky, strong and
perfumed flavors. The tabbouleh is served on the From the Field board with spring pea hummus,
yogurt and herb dip, coal-roasted eggplant caviar and lavash cracker.
Robert Hoffman, executive chef at Angeline’s, Charlotte, North Carolina, isn’t a big fan of
dried herbs. He says dried herbs don’t have the ability to affect the palate at the first bite and set
the tone with something subtle or aggressive or acidic to finish the dish the way fresh herbs can.
Red vine sorrel garnishes compressed cantaloupe and honeydew melon cubes with prosciutto
dressed with infused Meyer lemon oil. The sorrel has a slight bitter note and acidic twang that
ABOVE, TOP: Spiaggia’s mushroom
ravioletteo with taleggio cheese is
garnished with nepitella.
ABOVE, BOTTOM: Sorrel is mixed with
dandelion greens and dressed with
lemon oil and paired with coal-roasted
butternut and fire-grilled kabocha,
blistered romesco, popped amaranth and
green goddess dressing at Citizen Rail.
OPPOSITE, LEFT: Copper Spoon Kitchen
& Cocktails serves Down the Rabbit Hole
with an ashwagandha tincture.