Sweet Summer Thyme: Fresh Herbs For Your Health
If you want to improve your health through food, you may want to consider becoming a HERBivore. When I suggest you become a HERBivore, I am not only recommending a diet full of plants (fruits, veggies, whole grains) but also one that is full of fresh herbs. Fresh herbs can add a lot of flavor without adding fat, sugar or salt and they contain disease-fighting properties that are good for you. Summer is a great time to experiment with fresh herbs because they are plentiful during warm weather months.
The science behind herbs and their disease-fighting properties is always evolving. Below is a list of some of my favorite summertime herbs, information about their health benefits and ideas about how to add them to your diet.
Basil is fairly easy to grow in your home garden outside or indoors. Not only is it delicious, but it also contains some serious health benefits. The oil found on the leaves of this herb has both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Basil also provides a source of vitamin A and iron. It is best to add basil to dishes at the last minute so heat from cooking doesn’t destroy its flavor. Basil can be a tasty addition to salads, pastas, sandwiches and sauces.
Dill is a weedy herb that is “kind of a big dill” when it comes to adding a boost of nutrition to many summer recipes. It provides a source of calcium, which is important for bone health, and some studies suggest the oil on its leaves has anti-fungal properties. Dill tastes great in yogurt dips, on top of salmon, or tossed in potato and pasta dishes.
Oregano is a packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants. In fact, ½ teaspoon of dried oregano has the same antioxidant power as 3 cups of fresh spinach. Oregano can be mixed into salad dressings or sprinkled on top of pizza.
Thyme is often used in a bundle of fresh and/or dried herbs to add flavor to meat, soups and stews and it can also be a wonderful addition to eggs, fish recipes and bean dishes. Research suggests the oil on its leaves has the potential to aid in preventing food borne illness by preventing contamination and/or decontaminating foods that have been contaminated through processing.
Rosemary has long been known as the herb of remembrance. Studies have shown it may also play a role in stimulating the brain and boosting long-term memory. Rosemary can be sprinkled on lamb, chicken or potatoes.
Preserve herbs by drying them when they are fresh so you can enjoy them year-round. You can dry herbs in the microwave or in the oven.
Microwave: wash herbs, remove stems, place herbs between a paper towel, dry on the lowest setting for 2-3 minutes, cool and store in an air-tight container
Oven: wash and dry leaves with a paper towel, place herbs on a baking sheet in a single layer, heat in the oven at 100 degrees F for several hours with the door slightly open, remove herbs before they get brown, cool and store in an air-tight container
Dried herbs will last about a year in an air-tight container; fresh herbs will last about 1 week in the refrigerator. Dried herbs typically have a stronger flavor, so a general guideline is to use a ratio of 1:3 when substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, you will probably only need 1 teaspoon of dried basil to achieve the same flavor.
The following recipe features my favorite herb: fresh basil! I could add basil to just about anything…perhaps it’s the Italian in me! This basil risotto can be served alongside your favorite protein or as a main entrée. It’s delizioso!
Servings: 8- ¾ cup side dish servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
- 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, “no-chicken” broth or vegetable broth (see Note)
- 1 10-ounce bag spinach, tough stems removed
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped shallots or onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups arborio, carnaroli or other Italian “risotto” rice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (see Tip)
- Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth remains steaming, but is not simmering.
- Rinse spinach thoroughly with cold water and place in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and punch several holes in it. Microwave on High until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer to a food processor or blender, add basil and puree until smooth; set aside.
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add shallots (or onion) and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and salt and stir to coat.
- Stir 1/2 cup of the hot broth and a generous splash of wine into the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to cook on medium-low, adding broth in 1/2-cup increments followed by a splash of wine, and stirring frequently after each addition, until most of the liquid is absorbed. The risotto is done when you’ve used all the broth and wine and the rice is creamy and just tender, 25 to 35 minutes total. Stir in the reserved spinach-basil puree.
- Remove from the heat; stir in 3/4 cup cheese and pepper. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts and the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Tips & Notes
- Note: Chicken-flavored broth, a vegetarian broth despite its name, is preferable to vegetable broth in some recipes for its hearty, rich flavor. Sometimes called “No-Chicken Broth,” it can be found with the soups in the natural-foods section of most supermarkets.
- Tip: To toast pine nuts: Place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
Recipe from EatingWell: January/February 2011