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Summer’s Bounty: Home Grown Herbs

Herbed Sea Bass

Fresh from my garden pickings, and the easy spirit of summertime, my cooking at this time of year is inspired! As much as I can, I bring tastes of the outdoors into my recipes. When the weather is on my side, I like to spend my time outdoors as much as possible--whether I’m barbecuing, relaxing on the patio with friends and family, or dining al fresco in the garden of a favorite restaurant. If it’s me that’s doing the cooking, I choose my summer menus thinking of the great outdoors. I like my foods to reflect the laid-back attitude, and generous supply of fresh grown ingredients of the season.

I’ve used fresh herbs and spices for years in my professional cooking, but it wasn’t until Father’s Day a few years back, that I was introduced to growing my own. On our back porch was potting soil, planters, and starter plants of basil, dill, rosemary, bay leaf, and sage. Since then, I’ve added to the variety and work on them every morning; watering and weeding. I clip them for use in my home and at my restaurant, Abigael’s.

It’s amazing to me how many herbs are available…Mint for instance, has 5,600 species. Oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, savory, and basil are all members of the mint family. I grow a fragrant chocolate mint, which I add to a macadamia nut and strawberry relish. I serve the relish with a chocolate praline terrine at Abigael’s. The apple mint, which I use as a garnish in a cold honeydew and cantaloupe soup, is as subtle in flavor as it is intriguing! My garden sometimes seems more like a candy store, but I can’t think of a finer taste on my tongue than that of freshly grown herbs.

For those who have sworn against growing your own, there’s always the local grocery store, farmer’s market and fruit stands. Professional growers do the work for us and all we have to do is pick out the fresh herbs and produce of the season. When you’re choosing produce, pick pieces that look fresh to the eye, are free of blemishes, and feel crisp to the touch. Organically grown produce will cost more, but give us the peace of mind that they’re pesticide free.

The Jewish calendar of events dictates to us only one holiday during the summer. Tisha B’Av, solemnly celebrated on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, this year on August 9th, is a day of fasting. The mournful event of the fast is preceded by nine days of not eating meat and we avoid elaborate productions of our foods. Since these are a sign of prosperity, which we avoid as we commemorate the destruction of the two temples on the same day hundreds of years apart. The guidelines of this holiday keep to the theme and spirit of easy summer cooking. The simplistic tastes of the summer garden are a good basis to work from for your meals at this time of year.

Light and flavorful, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my recipe for Herbed Sea Bass with Saffron Tomato Jus.