Garden Lifestyle

Make your Fourth of July Cookout Sparkle with the Flavor of Herbs!

Many of us serve the same foods for cookouts--cold salads, deviled eggs, vegetables, meats and poultry from the grill, baked beans, fruit salad--here are a few ideas for adding herbs to enliven your usual fare so that they explode with flavor!

  • Give deviled eggs an added zing by adding herbs. Dill is one of my favs, however, tarragon, basil, parsley, chives and chervil are all delightful with eggs. Don't forget a little hot sauce or pickle juice! Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Aaahhh yes, we mustn't forget our herbal libations! Muddle any herb in your favorite cocktail, spritzer, or even iced tea. I like the lemon herbs, any of the mints, sometimes basil or anise hyssop--all of them combine well with fresh fruits of the season--from melons to berries or peaches. Cheers!
  • Pesto makes anything taste good. I use it on pasta salad, tomatoes, bruschetta, with vegetable crudites and grilled veggies. It makes a great dip when combined with sour cream.
  • Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and herbs! What better way to celebrate summer?  Although I love tomatoes with basil, there are other very tasty herbs to use from tarragon, oregano, marjoram, dill, arugula to mint. Chop or chiffonade herbs and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • I truly enjoy vegetables on the grill. Eggplant, chiles and sliced onions are my favorites, however, summer squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, bundled green beans, asparagus and potatoes are all scrumptious.
  • Hot off the grill or cool room temp, grilled veggies are good eatin'. Sometimes I just brush them with olive oil and use s&p, sometimes I make a marinade or sauce with herbs. I also make kabobs and let them marinade first.
  • Here's a three-bean salad that is tastier than most. I make the vinaigrette with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a little Dijon, lots of garlic and minced summer or winter savory. If you don't have savory--marjoram, thyme, oregano or basil are all good.  
  • What would a cookout be without baked beans? Although these are from scratch, I "doctor" up canned baked beans with onions, garlic, celery (Amsterdam celery or lovage leaves), savory (the bean herb) or thyme and oregano, and of course, chile peppers. No ho-hum beans around here.
  • There are many mediocre pasta salads out there; the blandness of pasta requires lots of flavoring. The secret to flavorful pasta salad is dousing the just-cooked, hot pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh-pressed garlic and letting it cool a bit before adding other ingredients. Use lots of garden vegetables and herbs to make it interesting.
  • Watermelon is a necessary menu item for a successful cookout, whether it is just served in big slices or wedges, or made into fruit salad. Spearmint, orange mint, and any of the lemon herbs are great additions to fruit salad. These macerated chunks are wonderful when muddled and added to a cocktail, spritzer or fruit juice.

Many of us serve the same foods for cookouts–cold salads, deviled eggs, vegetables, meats and poultry from the grill, baked beans, fruit salad–here are a few ideas for adding herbs to enliven your usual fare so that they explode with flavor!

Cold Salads and Vegetable Sides

Brighten vegetables with herbs to add flavor and color–most can use more than you think. Try cutting the leaves into chiffonade (cut the leaves crosswise into thin ribbons) or tearing them. Basil, parsley, tarragon, chervil and cilantro go well with most summer vegetables; adding spearmint is cooling and done in many European and mid-Eastern cuisines; use arugula and nasturtium leaves and flowers for spice, not to mention chiles. Most salads are improved by adding alliums: garlic, onions, scallions, or shallots. /item/9312/summer-greek-salad

Dips, Sauces and Spreads

Whether the base is olive oil, mayonnaise, sourcream, or pureed beans or legumes, most sauces and dips are made lively by adding garlic and a little (or a lot) of hot peppers. Some sauces, I just add one, perhaps two individual herbs, while I add all sorts of herbs and greens to a salsa verde. I often serve grilled veggies with a green sauce or pesto.

Grilled Veggies

This is one of my favorite treatments for garden produce. Most often, I just slice and grill with olive oil (with a clove or two of minced or pressed garlic added), salt and pepper. Sometimes I mix up a spicy tomato and chile barbecue sauce and brush it on eggplant and squash or tofu slices. I also mix up a simple marinade of equal parts: olive oil, tamari, balsamic vinegar and water (to make 1 cup, use 1/4 cup of each) and add pressed garlic and a favorite herb or two, minced. Vary this by adding a little Dijon mustard; hot sauce; tomato puree; maple syrup; grated gingerroot, etc. The marinade can be used, poured off and saved in a jar for about a week, for one more use. This marinade is also good for meat or poultry, however it cannot be saved.

Baked Beans

While I make baked beans from scratch in the cold weather, I don’t heat up the kitchen like that in the summer. So I buy a good-quality baked bean and “doctor” them up. Sometimes I add a can of pinto or red kidney beans to the baked beans. First, in a good-sized iron skillet, I add olive oil and saute chopped onion and garlic and often celery (sometimes I use the leaves of Amsterdam celery or lovage instead) and I always add a few hot chile peppers (optional for wimps) and sometimes bell pepper or not. Once the veggies are cooked for 5 to 7 minutes, I add the beans and rinse the can and add that extra water. I bring this to a simmer and add freshly ground cumin seed, minced savory, oregano or sage leaves, sometimes a little epazote, and parsley. I often add a tablespoon or two of molasses, a teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard, hot sauce or Worcestershire. Stir the beans, let barely simmer, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes more and taste for seasoning. These are damn good beans and can be made ahead.

Fruit Salads, Beverages, and Dessert

I add summer herbs like spearmint, orange mint, the lemon herbs: lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and lemongrass to fruit salads; beverages; fillings for pies, cobblers, crisps and crumbles; doughs and batters for muffins, breads, cookies, cakes, pancakes and waffles. Sometimes, I just chop up the herb leaves and add thems, however I often make herbal syrups which are great to have on hand for flavoring. /item/6695/herbal-libations

Hope this has provided you with some herbal inspiration and food for thought! Happy Fourth of July!

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