If there’s any one way to describe my summer cooking, it’s herbal. I grow as many fragrant leafy things as I can, then chop and sprinkle all summer long. I wish I were a caterpillar, able to munch my way happily through my tangle of a garden — much like the little guys at work on a Taiwanese tea leaf in my header above, the image that sends the weak fleeing terrified from my blog. (Every once in a while, I get a comment like “ohmygod, I loved your recipe until I saw the caterpillars! EWWWWWW. Now I hate it and I hate you!” Yeah. Don’t let a giant foot smush you as you crawl out.)
My usual summer lunch is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with salt and olive oil, of course — of course — but I feel the urge strongly when June hits, even if it’s so grey and chilly I make golabki. I end up strewing summer savory, lemon thyme, and parsley over the Polish stuffed cabbage baking in the oven for two hours, because one can dream of sunnier days, right?
Or I make potstickers with chives, fennel, and parsley.
There’s plenty of tabbouli, if you want parsley, and I always want parsley. Home-canned tuna gets parsley, chives, and savory in a salad with beans, or if fresh, grilled with charred “scallions” from culled onion tops. When I grill a steak, my favorite topping is a gremolata, described in my screed against Steak Diane, resplendent with parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.
Gosh, what don’t I eat with fresh garden parsley?
Chicken salad gets tarragon from my miracle bush, with sprigs already three feet long and growing, or lovage, topping out around eight feet high right now. Vegetable salads like cole slaw or spring baby veg get a shower of herbs from borage and johnny-jump-up flowers and salad burnet.
Fish or potatoes can be grilled in packets with handfuls of fresh Mediterranean bay leaves (absolutely worth growing). New potatoes and mint is an early summer ritual.
Pair cilantro with tiny Oregon pink shrimp for ceviche or with tomatoes and hot peppers in a thousand summer salsas.
Steamed rice gets a shower of shiso chiffonade, or I just fold up bits of rice in a heart-shaped entire leaf, like little fresh dolmades from Japan. Pizza? Fresh marjoram or oregano. Grilled zucchini shares the plate with mint and pine nuts. Blackberries get thyme and peaches get basil with rose geranium syrup.
Only raspberries shall remain untouched, I decree: those plump ruby pillows are gifts from the gods, the ones that finally smile on Oregonians in the summer. Finally. Lord hear my prayer.