Quick and Easy Home Made Dinner Masala
Whenever I thought about how to make easy dinner recipes for beginners, I would go to my neighbor’s place and the aunty would lovingly hand me a large bowl of Sambhar-Recipient.
And I always believed that recipe is a south Indian recipe. I was only partly right for sambhar is one dish that is zealously loved all across the nation and there are many different versions of it.
For example, in Maharashtra the sambhar has a sweet taste, in Kerala is not too spicy and has a thicker consistency,
Tamil sambhar is thinner and a tad more spicy than the Kerala one while the spiciest is had in Hyderabad and Karnataka. Basically, masala is different in all the variations of this recipe.
Most south Indian households use their own home-made sambhar masala by powdering spices. It obviously takes a lot of time and authentic ingredients to prepare.
A true sambhar lover and not one to be bogged down by the lengthiness of authentic recipes, I have come up with my very own sambhar recipe that doesn’t take too much time and uses easily available ingredients.
While some may feel that the end result doesn’t even come close to authentic sambhar, it suffices fine for me. When friends ask me how to make easy dinner recipes to beginners in a jiffy, I give them this recipe:
- Arhar / Toor dal: 1 cup
- Vegetables: Few pieces of Brinjals (small ones, sliced into half), carrot (diced), potatoes (diced), ladyfingers, gourd or lauki, pumpkin, french beans, tend
- Tip: You may have all or some of the above-mentioned veggies. Do not fret if you do not have some of the above items.
- Tamarind (half a bowl, soaked in water)
- Tomatoes: 3 big
- Onions: 3 medium-sized for tempering: 5-6 curry leaves, 2 tsp mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, 5-6 cloves of garlic, 2 dry red chilies, 3-4 star aniseeds
- Powdered spices: 2 tbsp Everest sambhar powder, ½ tsp turmeric powder, 1tsp red chili powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, Salt to taste
In a pressure cooker put washed Ahar daal, some salt, and turmeric and bring to a boil (it will take 2 whistles on high flame).
In a kadhai put oil, add sheen, curry leaves, dry red chilies, star aniseeds, and mustard seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add chopped garlic.
When garlic turns golden brown, add chopped onions. Once the onions are done add tomatoes and other sambhar vegetables that you may have gathered.
Now add salt, powdered spices and cook for 5 mins.
Once the vegetables have absorbed the spices and have become a bit tender, add them to the boiled dal in the pressure cooker and wait for one more whistle.
Separately strain the tamarind to take out its pulp and remove the seeds.
Add tamarind water to the sambhar in the pressure cooker and close the lid.
Open the cooker after 15 minutes by when the tamarind would have well been absorbed into the daal and vegetables.
Transfer to a bowl and garnish with chopped coriander.
Your delicious sambhar recipe is ready to be savored with steamed rice, dosa, idlis or appams!
You may also like Hyderabadi Bhindi Recipe, Achari Baingan Recipe, Egg Curry Recipe.
Uncooked Pear & Berry Stew
Unlike most fruit, pears increase in flavor after they’re picked.
- 4 ripe pears, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 3/4 cup blackberries, hulled
- 1/4 cup honey
- zest and juice of 1 orange
Place pears and berries in a glass or ceramic dish. In a small bowl or cup, mix together honey, zest, and juice. Pour over fruit, toss, cover, and set aside for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings.
PER SERVING: 207 CAL(2 PERCENT FROM FAT), 1g PROT, 0.4g FAT, 49g CARB, 4mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 7g FIBER.
Pear Cranberry Shortcake
Work Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup cranberries
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 Bosc or Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, blended until smooth
- 3/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium saucepan, combine water, cranberries, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Toss pears with cornstarch. Add to saucepan. Simmer 15-20 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and cool. Combine ricotta with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Refrigerate.
- In a small bowl, combine yogurt, oil, and orange zest. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Pour wet ingredients over dry. Stir gently with a spatula until just combined. Spoon into 6 neat mounds on cookie sheet.
- Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely.
- Cut shortcakes in half crosswise. Top-bottom half with apple mixture and a dollop of ricotta, dividing evenly. Serve immediately.
Each serving: About 390 calories, 10 g protein, 70 g carbohydrate, 9 g total fat (3 g saturated), 14 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium.
Fried Green Tomatoes
To enhance flavor, many cooks brine their tomatoes before frying. But this can make the tomatoes inconsistently salty.
So instead, I salt my slices, let them sit, and then rinse them off. This adds flavor but eliminates the salt and excess water in the tomato. The end results are much more consistent.
- Sprinkle with Kosher Salt:
- 7 green tomatoes, cut into 1/2″ thick slices
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 T. baking powder
- 1/2 t. pepper
- 1/4 t. cayenne
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- Stir in:
- 3/4 cup cold water
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 T. olive oil
- Beat to Stiff Peaks, then Fold into Cornmeal Mixture:
- 2 egg whites Fry in 1/4″ Vegetable Oil.
ONE Layer tomato slices in a bowl and salt both sides. Let stand 30 minutes, then rinse slices under cold water and pat them dry.
TWO Here’s a twist to traditional fried tomatoes–a cornmeal tempura batter. In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients (except egg whites).
THREE Beat egg whites to a stiff peak. With a whisk, stir a small amount into cornmeal mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining egg whites.
FOUR Pour vegetable oil into a skillet to 1/4″ depth. Dip tomato slices in batter and fry slices over medium-high heat until golden brown.
FIVE Fry tomatoes in batches. It takes 2–3 minutes per batch. Drain on a rack over paper towels. Serve with Red Onion Marmalade.
- Nutritional Information per 2 Slices:
- Calories 254
- Total Fat 22(g)
- Calories from Fat 78%
- Sodium 237(mg)
- Cook Time
- Prep time: 20 min
- Cook time: 45 min
- Ready in: 1 hour 5 min
- Yields: 4
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon molasses
1/3 cup shortening
4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water, e.g. between 105 and 115 degrees
2 tablespoons caraway seed
1 tablespoon caraway powder
1 ½ cups raisins (optional)
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. While the milk is heating, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, the salt, molasses, and shortening and stir until the sugar dissolves and the shortening melts. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the liquid to cool to lukewarm.
Warm the bowl of a standup mixer by rinsing it with hot water. Put in the yeast, the other teaspoon of sugar, and the warm water. Allow the yeast to proof for 5 minutes.
Add the milk and 3 cups of flour, and mix slowly for one minute. Add ½ cup more of flour, the caraway seeds, the caraway powder, and the raisins and mix about 2 minutes more. If the dough clings to the hook and cleans the side of the bowl, do not add more flour. Otherwise, add the rest of the flour.
The process at medium speed about 2 minutes more or until the dough is smooth and elastic – it will be slightly sticky.
Put the dough in a greased bowl, turning the dough around to get the grease all over the surface. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place about 1 hour, or until doubled. Turn the bread out of the bowl and divide the dough into twelve even portions; (I do this by weight).
Form each of the pieces of dough into 12 balls and put the balls in a 10 inch round cake pan. You will need to squeeze them a bit to fit them in – they’re supposed to be pressing against each other. Recover the bowl with the damp towel and let the rolls rise for another hour.
About 20 minutes before the rolls are finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you want the rolls to have a shiny color, combine an egg white with a teaspoon of water and brush this on top of the rolls.
Bake the rolls for 45 minutes or until the top is shiny and the temperature in the center of one of the rolls is 200 degrees. When finished, turn the clump of rolls onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely. Tear each roll-off as desired.
Herbal appetizer: Gravlax and Saffron Risotto
Gravlax, usually used as an appetizer, is raw salmon marinated in a dry cure of salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is one of my favorite entertaining dishes, as it is so easy to make and creates such a strong impression.
The name means “salmon from the grave” referring to the Swedish practice of burying cured salmon in the ground to preserve it.
You need to start four days before serving, although actual preparation time is minimal.
- A 3-pound salmon fillet, with the skin on
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons Cognac or Vodka, optional
- Fresh dill, at least 1 cup packed
Cut the salmon fillet in half, crossways. Place one fillet, skin side down, on a piece of cheesecloth, (preferably) or plastic wrap. Place the other fillet, also skin side down, next to the first fillet.
Mix the salt and sugar in a small bowl, and work the mixture into the top of both pieces. Sprinkle on the Cognac or vodka, if using.
Place all the dill on top of one of the salmon pieces on the cheesecloth. Cover the dill with the other salmon fillet, so that the skin side of the second fillet is on top.
Using the cheesecloth, wrap the two pieces together – essentially making what looks like a dill sandwich.
Put the salmon package on a sheet pan or some container big enough to hold the salmon and that has an edge to hold the liquid that will exude. If using cheesecloth, cover the container with plastic wrap.
Now you need to weigh the salmon down. Lay a board, or cookie sheet or any flat object on top of the salmon, and pile on heavy objects, like cans or a brick.
Since you’re going to keep this in the refrigerator, I usually just pile on containers that are already there. Turn the salmon every 24 hours and baste with any exuded liquid.
Taste a small piece after 48 hours to see if you want any additional salt or sugar – this recipe makes a lightly salted gravlax. To serve, separate the two fillets and brush off the dill.
Place on a cutting board with the skin side down. Slice the filet very thinly on the diagonal down to, but not through, the skin. Gravlax can be personalized to match individual preferences, using more salt, sugar, or other types of liquor.
Risotto Alla Milanese Recipe
I couldn’t finish the course without something that uses saffron – the most expensive food, by weight, in the world.
When you cook with saffron, it should be the highlight of the dish, and I know of no better dish than the following classic risotto, serves 4 – 6:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- 1-quart chicken stock, or more as needed
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
Crush the saffron between your finger and put it in a small bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of warm water. Set aside, and heat the chicken stock.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the wine and ¾ cup of stock, stirring constantly until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue to add the stock in ¾ cup increments.
The next addition should be added when the stirring spoon parts the rice down the middle of the pan, and the rice flows back over the exposed part of the pan very slowly.
When you’ve used up all the chicken stock, taste to make certain the rice is cooked through. The risotto should still be creamy.
Just before serving, add the saffron, cheese, butter if using, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Classic Herbal Sauces
Now we’re going to look at making three classic herbal sauces: pesto, gremolata, and salsa verde. I’ve given suggestions of possible uses, but once you’ve mastered these, I’m sure you’ll think of a lot of others.
Pesto is probably the best reason for growing your own basil – pesto’s popularity is certainly driving the increased availability of fresh basil in grocery stores.
Originally invented in the Ligurian section of Italy and used as a pasta dressing, pesto is now a popular spread for sandwiches, hamburgers, or as a sauce on chicken and fish.
Nothing to me means summer as much as the smell of pesto:
- 2 cups fresh basil, packed
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup pine nuts, (walnuts can be substituted)
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- salt, to taste
In a food processor, chop the garlic and basil. With the motor running, add the oil gradually. When the oil is completely absorbed, add the pine nuts until coarsely chopped.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the grated Parmesan. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if necessary.
The gremolata was invented in Milano and is the classic accompaniment to the braised veal shank dish, Osso Buco. Once you’ve tasted it though, a number of other uses will come to mind.
One possibility is to mix it into mashed potatoes or rice. Stir a little into tomato soup.
Add some to mayonnaise on your next tuna fish sandwich.
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- The rind of a ½ lemon, grated
- 1 anchovy fillet, rinsed
Mash the anchovy to a paste and mix thoroughly with the parsley, lemon, and anchovy.
Salsa Verde segregates the strongest elements of the classic tomato salsa for vibrant spicy sauce recipes that should not be just used as a dip.
Try it on fish fillets, e.g. tilapia, chicken breasts, or on top of fried eggs. Stir it into V8 juice with some diced cucumbers and bell peppers to make a unique gazpacho.
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/3 cup packed cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup green chiles, chopped
- 2 limes, juiced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
In a food processor, add the minced garlic and cilantro, and pulse until blended. Add the chilies, lime juice, salt and pepper, and puree to a chunky sauce consistency.
You can adjust the heat of this sauce by using different types of chilies – use jalapenos for a little more heat.
Baking With Herbs And Spaces Photos
We’re going to start with pizza and focaccia, discuss classic yeast bread, and end up with quick bread.
Pizza & Focaccia
Pizza and Focaccia are a great bread to start with when you want to use more herbs and spices in baking.
Both almost cry out for herbal or spicy flavors – think of the ubiquitous jar of red pepper flakes at pizza houses. There is relatively little difference between pizza and focaccia, in fact, I use the same basic dough recipe for both.
If the bread’s going to be an accompaniment to a meal, then I make focaccia. With pizza, I only allow the dough to rise one time, but with focaccia, I let the dough rise a second time since the end result should be thicker than a pizza.
Also, the herbs are incorporated directly in the dough as well as sprinkled on top, along with olive oil and maybe sautéed onions.
Unless I’m going to use the focaccia to make sandwiches, I form the dough in a flat circle which has a 9” diameter. The pie is then freely placed on a baking sheet.
Focaccia does make great sandwich bread – it will rise enough in the oven to be sliced horizontally. If it’s designated for sandwiches, instead of forming the dough in a circle, bake the dough in a heavily oiled jelly roll pan.
More Pizza and Focaccia
Pizza, by contrast, is rolled out after only one rising so it will not rise as much in the oven as focaccia. Also, since it’s really a full meal, there are lots more topping possibilities.
But as with so much in the kitchen, once you know the basics – in this case how to manipulate the dough – there are no rules and you can revise the dish to suit your own preferences.
Also, while I’m going to give you a full recipe for rosemary focaccia, including the dough, do not overlook the availability of premade pizza dough in the grocery store.
Add herbs to that dough, roll it out and bake it. It will still make great bread and the fresh herbs you add will make the bread seem homemade.
But if you can, try the homemade dough once even if you have a fear of working with a yeast dough.
One thing that makes pizza/focaccia less intimidating is that kneading is much less important than with other yeast bread. Kneading helps develop gluten, i.e. the protein structure that holds uprisen bread.
As pizza/focaccia dough does not rise much, a lot of kneading is not required. In fact, in the recipe below, almost all the kneading is done by the food processor.
This will make a 9” circle, enough to serve 4 – 6:
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package instant dry yeast
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups water, (use spring water if your water has off-flavors like chlorine)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons or more (by taste) of chopped rosemary, (possible other herbs include sage, parsley, chives, tarragon, cilantro, or savory).
- Cornmeal for use on the baking sheet
Add the flour, yeast, and salt to a food processor outfitted with a steel blade and pulse several times to mix. Pour in the water and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Pulse until the flour begins to cling together, and then let the machine run for 20 seconds.
Dump the dough into a large enough bowl so that it can comfortably rise to twice its volume. Let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes while you’re washing and chopping the herbs.
Divide the chopped herbs into two equal portions and reserve one portion to use for a topping. Turn the rested dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead the non-reserved herbs into the dough, slowly incorporating all of them into the dough. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let the dough double in size. This should take 1 ½ – 2 hours.
When the dough has doubled, turn the dough back onto the floured surface and punch it down. Shape it into a ball and press it out to form a 9” circle.
Sprinkle a little raw cornmeal on a baking sheet and put the circle of dough on the sheet.
Recover it with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.
About 20 minutes before the dough is ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the dough is risen, just before baking, use your finger to poke holes through the dough, almost to the bottom.
Coat the dough with the rest of the olive oil. Sprinkle the reserved herbs over the surface along with some kosher salt.
Bake the focaccia for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees. After another 10 minutes, check to see if the bread is done.
The best way to determine if the focaccia is done, (and in fact if any bread is done) is by temperature.
Using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature in the thickest part should read 200 degrees. If it is not done, and the bottom of the bread is turning too dark, turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and check after another ten minutes.
Quick bread is the bread that is not leavened by yeast, rather usually with baking soda or powder.
They don’t need kneading nor require time to rise. They tend to be denser than yeast bread and take especially well to a variety of flavorings.
Quick bread can be savory – Irish soda bread, biscuits, and cornbread are classic savory quick bread.
They can also be sweet, like gingerbread or banana bread. Many quick pieces of bread, to my mind, are sweet enough to be almost cakes.
If you would like to learn a lot more about quick bread, we have a great course at An Introduction to Quick Bread.
The course author also recently posted the recipe for a delicious, classic Pain d’Espices, a spiced quick bread that highlights the remarkable mutual affinity of cardamom and cinnamon
Quick bread is remarkably versatile. Because they do not rise before baking, they can easily incorporate various kinds of flours like rye, corn, and oatmeal that can’t develop the gluten yeast bread require.
They also take especially well to seasonings, including not only herbs and spices but fruits, nuts, cheese, and various sweetening agents like molasses or honey.
The classic baking spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice are great in a quick bread. Most people have recipes for favorites like banana bread or cornbread; if not the bibliography can refer you to several sources.
I thought we’d explore one savory option that is a little less familiar but equally delicious, i.e. quick bread made with cheese and herbs.
These bread make great brunch options and are also good for hours deserves. Or, after dinner, serve slices of the bread with a cheese and wine course.
To incorporate cheese into a quick bread there are a couple of rules of thumb. First, you do need a lot of cheese for the flavor to come out.
If you don’t have enough, maximize flavor by putting the cheese on the top of the bread 10 or so minutes before the bread is baked.
Secondly, use strong cheeses – for example, use extra sharp cheddar cheese rather than regular cheddar.
Cheddar cheese is one of the best cheeses to use, as it combines very well with a variety of herbs and spices, especially:
- Peppers, including paprika, hot peppers like jalapeno and cayenne, and ground black pepper
- Hot spices like ginger or mustard
Other good herbal and cheese matches include:
- Basil with Mozzarella or Parmesan
- Caraway with Muenster Dill with Swiss Cheese
- Parsley with Swiss
- Muenster with hot peppers
The following recipe brings in all of the flexible elements we’ve discussed, i.e. using different flours, cheeses and herbs. It’s from the classic, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book:
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- 2 tablespoons butter or oil
- 1 egg
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
- 1 teaspoon dill weed or parsley
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard
- 2 cups rolled oats, ground in a food processor to make a flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line each cup with a paper liner.
In a large bowl, beat the chives, butter or oil, and egg together. Stir in the buttermilk, cheese, and herb.
In a medium bowl, sift the oat flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together. Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture, stirring just until combined.
With an ice cream scoop, spoon some of the batters into each muffin cup. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.
An “aperitif” is a wine-based beverage drunk before dinner – a drink designed to stimulate the appetite. Aperitifs flavored with herbs are called, generically, “vermouth” although some are better known by their individual names.
All vermouth is white wine flavored with a combination of up to 200 different botanicals, e.g. herbs, spices, fruits, flowers. Caramel is added to make sweet, red vermouth.
These additives are infused, macerated, or distilled in a base white wine. Vermouth is inexpensive as the base wine needs to be neutral and can be mass-produced.
The liquid is filtered, pasteurized, and fortified, i.e. additional alcohol is added so vermouth is more alcoholic than wine. Vermouth’s alcohol level is 16% for dry vermouth and 18% for sweet vermouth.
Like tisanes, vermouth was invented to be used medicinally. Its original primary ingredient was wormwood – the name “vermouth” is derived from “vermut” which is German for wormwood.
The Italians first developed a taste for vermouth as an aperitif. The first aperitif formulation, sweet red vermouth, was created in Turin in the 1700s.
The French were not far behind, developing a dry version later that century. Traditionally, Italian vermouth is supposed to be sweet and French vermouth to be dry; however, both countries now produce both sweet and dry vermouth.
The three most common categories are white (dry), Bianca (white and slightly sweet), and red (sweet) vermouth.
Each manufacturer uses a proprietary formula, so brands taste differently. Generally, Italian vermouth’s tend to be stronger, e.g. more bitter and spicy, and their sweet vermouths have strong caramel overtones.
Martini & Rossie extra dry vermouth is the bartender’s favorite to flavor a martini – just a little is strong enough to stand up to the juniper flavor of gin.
French vermouths are subtler and rely as much on the aroma as a taste for their flavor impact. For that reason, when I use vermouth in cooking, I prefer the French brands.
Some specific vermouth formulas with a good following in the U.S. are not sold under the name vermouth, but rather under special names, e.g. DuBonnet, Lillet, Campari, Punt e Mes, and Cynar.
As opposed to aperitifs, liqueurs are usually served as an after-dinner menu ideas drink. Liqueurs are alcoholic drinks in which herbs or spices or other flavors like nuts, chocolate or coffee have been infused.
They differ from vermouths as they do not have a wide base, but are made with either a neutral alcohol base like vodka, or they get additional flavor by using such bases as brandy, cognac, rum, or whiskey. As such, they are more alcoholic than aperitifs.
Also unlike aperitifs, liqueurs are usually sweet, not bitter. There is no standard formula for liqueurs- even those that use the same name like crème de menthe. Like vermouth, manufacturers use proprietary, closely guarded formulas.
Some liqueurs are centuries old. These often have monastical origins and are usually based on numerous ingredients. Bénédictine, for example, is flavored with more than twenty herbs and plants.
It was first produced in 1510 in Normandy. Also invented in the Middle Ages is Chartreuse, created by Carthusian monks.
It is purportedly blended from 130 different plants. I’m not sure whether the color “chartreuse” came from the liqueur or vice versa, but the liquid is bright green.
There is a large category of liqueurs that are anise or licorice-flavored, e.g. anisette, absinthe, pastis, as well as liqueurs with proprietary names like Pernod or Sambuca.
Sambuca actually gets its flavor from the elderberry bush. Traditionally, Sambuca is served with three whole coffee beans floating on the top. This is called “con mosche” or “with flies”, and is reputed to bring good luck
The above liqueurs are based on a neutral alcoholic base.
A liqueur that uses single malt whiskey as its base is Drambuie from Scotland. Supposedly created from a recipe used by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the manufacturer adds heather honey, herbs, and spices to the whiskey.
A close relation from Ireland is Irish Mist, which is a blend of Irish whiskey, heather honey, and herbs.
I have never tried to make herbal liqueurs from scratch. If you’re interested, there is a site, like a healthy dinner, which has numerous links to recipes for making liqueurs with such flavors as mint, ginger, allspice, vanilla, cinnamon, and lavender.
As the site notes, however, most liqueurs are made just from the volatile oils, not from the plant part itself, which can contribute off-flavors.
To make homemade liqueurs, then, it is easiest to buy the underlying essences rather than use the herbs or spices. The bibliography lists good sources for essences.
The site, however, gives one very easy recipe should you want to make a licorice-flavored liqueur at home.
This recipe uses star anise, a Chinese spice that has become very popular. It is stronger than regular anise, so while you can substitute star anise for anise seed, use only one third as much. Star Anise is named for its shape, and it is a beautiful spice, often used as a garnish:
Star Anise Liqueur
- 3 tablespoons of ground star anise
- 2 cups of vodka
- 1 cup of sugar
Combine the star anise and vodka in a clean glass jar. After 2 weeks, pour the liquid carefully into another jar leaving behind the spices that have settled on the bottom.
Clean out the jar, and pour the liquid back into it through a coffee filter. Add 1 cup of sugar to the jar and cover.
Invert the jar repeatedly until the sugar has dissolved. Store the liqueur for at least 3 months. You may need to add slightly more alcohol or sugar to adjust the flavor.
Herbs in Non-Vegetable Salads
There’s a whole range of great salads that are not based on greens or vegetables, rather on fruits, grains, and legumes.
Herbs can amplify flavor in these as well. To illustrate, and get you thinking about some possibilities, here are three recipes that highlight three different herbs with their soul mates:
Cardamom Fruit Salad With Cardamom Sauce, adapted from Miloradovich, P. 103, Serves 4:
- 1 large apple
- ½ teaspoon cardamom seed, whole
- Juice of one lemon
Slice the banana and section the grapefruit and orange. Peel and slice the apple. Combine the fruits and toss lightly with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the cardamom seed on top of the fruit and refrigerate.
Prepare the Cardamom Sauce as follows:
- The ½ cup of water
- ½ cup clover honey
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- 6 large mint leaves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup port wine
Blend the water, honey, and cardamom in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over a low flame and bring just up the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the mint leaves and salt. Simmer for an additional 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the sauce to come to room temperature.
When ready to serve, drain the fruit, adding two tablespoons of fruit juice to the sauce. Arrange the fruit over lettuce leaves or divide among individual bowls. Pour the cardamom sauce over the fruit.
This recipe for Hummus illustrates how well cumin works with dried legumes, in this case, chickpeas.
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¾ cup “tahini” or sesame paste, (you can substitute peanut butter)
- The ¾ cup of water
- 6 cups chickpeas, canned, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin, toasted
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Paprika to garnish
Place the garlic, lemon juice, and tahini in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. The process to a smooth paste. Add the water and chickpeas and process until the mixture is smooth, almost fluffy.
Add the cumin and salt, and process again to combine with the chickpeas. Taste, and add additional cumin and salt if desired.
Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl. Pour the oil on the top and swirl lightly with the tip of a knife. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve with pita triangles.
Besides allowing parsley to come into its own as an ingredient rather than a garnish, this recipe for Tabbouleh shows how well mint and parsley work together. It also highlights bulgur – an overlooked grain that cooks very easily and has a great nutty flavor:
Soak the bulgur in cold water, to cover, for half an hour. This is all the cooking the bulgur needs. Strain, and squeeze as much of the moisture out as possible. In a bowl, combine the bulgur with the onion, parsley, and mint.
Sprinkle the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt over the salad, toss, and refrigerate until chilled.
Here’s a guide to making a farmers market salad – i.e. a vegetable salad that uses whatever fresh and good in the market. Suitable vegetables include carrots, asparagus, sugar peas, broccoli, zucchini, and green beans.
- Make a vinaigrette with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of mixed herbs.
- Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
- Blanch each vegetable in boiling salted water, i.e. dip them into the water until they’re just beginning to get soft and then put them into ice water. The time in the water will vary based on the vegetable used.
- Allow the vegetables to cool. Toss them together with salt and pepper.
- When the vegetables are at room temperature, dress them with the vinaigrette.
The recipe below pays tribute to a really underappreciated vegetable/herb, i.e. fennel.
If you’re not familiar with this vegetable, buy one next time you’re in the produce section along with a small jar of fennel seeds. From the fresh vegetable, you’ll get two salad ingredients.
The large bulb at the bottom of the plant is crunchy when eaten raw and has an anise flavor.
The feathery greens on top of the bulb can be treated like any fresh herb. Here’s a salad that’s a full meal in itself and uses fennel in all of its three forms. Adapted from Deborah Madison’s,
The Greens Cookbook here’s Fennel & Mushroom Salad, Serves 4 – 6:
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 to 2-½ tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 strips of lemon peel, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed under a spoon or in a mortar
- 4 – 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces large, firm mushrooms, wiped clean
- Pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- 2 to 3 ounces Parmesan Reggiano, shaved into paper-thin slices.
Pound the garlic and the salt in a mortar until completely smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel, fennel seeds, and olive oil to make a tart, lemony vinaigrette.
Thinly slice the mushrooms, carefully dress them with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and season them with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Lay a damp kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap directly over them to keep them from browning, and set them aside for 1 hour to marinate.
Trim the fennel bulb and cut it into quarters. Remove most of the core; then slice it lengthwise, very thinly, leaving the pieces joined together.
Dress it with most of the remaining vinaigrette and half the herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the herbs to the mushrooms.
Layer the mushrooms, cheese, and fennel on each plate and spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the top.
Vin-aigrettes & Salad Dressings
We all know about the most common uses for fresh herbs – vinaigrettes and other salad dressings. Here we will look at using herbs in green and vegetable salads as well as other salads such as tabbouleh and hummus.
Vin-aigrettes & Other Salad Dressings
Vinaigrette is a simple mixture of three components – oil, (olive, canola), an acidic liquid (vinegar, citrus juice), and seasonings (herbs, salt, mustard). Making vinaigrette is simple. In a small bowl or jar, add vinegar or fruit juice or even water or bouillon.
Add salt and pepper. It is especially important to add the salt now, as salt will dissolve in acid but not in oil. Add any additional flavoring elements like herbs.
Whisk or shake to combine. You can then add the oil slowly to the bowl while whisking vigorously, or add the oil all at once into the jar and then shake, with the cap tightly closed. For the most stable dressing possible, use cold ingredients.
The two variables that make vinaigrette so adaptive are ingredients and the proportions of those ingredients. The most important ingredient, due to its larger volume, is the oil.
Choose oil by taste. It’s hard to go wrong with extra virgin olive oil, but sometimes a neutral oil like canola or safflower will let other flavors prevail, especially with the softer herbs. Nut oils, like peanut or walnut, can add interesting flavor.
The acidic liquid, the second ingredient, can be selected from any number of choices – here is where the flavored vinegar we made before is especially useful.
Sherry vinegar is especially nice as it has a rich body and a slightly sweet aftertaste.
Balsamic vinegar can also provide body and a hint of sweetness, (to perk up less expensive balsamic vinegar, try adding a touch of dark brown sugar). Wine vinegar is classic.
About the only vinegar that isn’t appropriate for vinaigrette is distilled white vinegar. Alternatives to vinegar include fruit juices, especially lemon juice.
Seasonings always include salt and pepper, but then there are a lot of additional options.
Finely chopped garlic, shallots, scallions or Dijon mustard are the most common additives, along with almost any herb. Infuse, i.e. allow the seasonings to soak in the vinegar or lemon juice, before adding the oil.
Once you’ve chosen the ingredients, proportions are also strictly up to you – people have varying preferences for acidity or for certain herbs.
A 3:1 oil to acid ratio is a guideline most commonly cited, but any other combination is fine and simple experimentation is the best way to find your preferences.
It is useful to remember that the higher the acid content, the more salt will be required. Also, when calculating your acid to oil ratio, remember that mustard itself is acidic.
If possible, make the vinaigrette about an hour ahead of time, as this will let the flavors meld.
But always add the dressing at the last moment to any food like lettuce that wilts. Also, the base food should be as dry as possible as water particles will repel the dressing and it won’t stick.
When adding dressing to a salad, add just enough to make each leaf glisten, (your hands make the best salad tongs). A beginning rule of thumb is ½ cup vinaigrette to 1 quart of greens.
Vinaigrette can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks; it will solidify but just bring it up to room temperature and shake.
To start, here is a classic herbal vinaigrette recipe – use any herb you like as a substitute for the thyme in this recipe:
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or more to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (or more to taste)
- 1/2 cup of good-tasting olive oil
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, add the shallots, thyme, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Shake vigorously until the salt is dissolved. Add the olive oil and shake.
Besides using herbs in a classic vinaigrette, think of using them in other salad dressings.
Follow the above instructions for a vinaigrette, but instead of the acidic component, use a non-acid fruit juice like mango or grape juice.
Or instead of oil, use chicken fat, stock, or even water to minimize calories. Herbs, of course, are a great way to flavor food without added fat.
Besides vinaigrettes, use herbs in creamy salad dressings. Store-bought mayonnaise can really be improved with just a little effort.
To a good mayonnaise-like Hellmann’s, stir in a little lemon juice in which salt has been dissolved.
Start with a teaspoon of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of salt in half a cup of mayonnaise or more, and then add to taste.
Now add either spices or herbs that are compatible with the salad ingredients. Here are some ideas:
- Curry is a classic additive when dressing a chicken salad.
- Dill is a great addition to the mayonnaise used for potato salad.
- Use mint in a sweetened mayonnaise on fruit salad.