Not just for garnish anymore! Christopher Aquilino offers up ideas for summertime dishes where herbs are the stars, not the supporting players.

AuthorAquilino, Christopher
PositionSOUL KITCHEN - Recipe

Herbs are the things that can make a good dish great. What's more, they're easy to work with and affordable to use, and once you've discovered your flavor likes and dislikes, the sky's the limit!

Culinary use of the term "herb" typically distinguishes herbs from spices as such: an herb is derived from the leafy green parts of a plant while spices are derived from other parts of the plant, including its seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit, and occasionally dried leaves. Also, herbs are set apart from vegetables in that, like spices, they're used in small amounts and provide flavor to a dish rather than substance to food. Common culinary herbs include basil, chives, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and so on.

Traditional uses of these herbs have been primarily to place small amounts into the dish, chop them up and simmer them into a sauce, or use them as garnish. Here are some new, exciting ways you can incorporate fresh herbs into your favorite dishes:

Rosemary skewers: Strip 3/4 of a single sprig of rosemary and use it to skewer your favorite protein--shrimp, pork or tofu. It's as easy to grill as any traditional kabob!

Basil-wrapped appetizers: Basil's wonderfully floral flavor can be paired with numerous other flavors and foods. Try wrapping soft goat cheese and fig paste with a basil leaf for a tasty appetizer.

Chive-tied lettuce wraps: You can create simple lettuce wraps, such as those found in Vietnamese cooking, and tie them with piquant chive shoots. They're great stuffed with anything from shrimp to cottage cheese.

Herb-smoked meats and vegetables: Next time you fire up the barbeque, throw some herbs onto the charcoal right before you begin to grill your meats and vegetables. This is a unique and natural way to infuse the flavor, and it requires little to no special preparation.

Herb crusts: Try chopping your herbs extra finely and mixing them with freshly cracked pepper and freshly chopped garlic. Roll a nice lean piece of tenderloin into the mix and there you go--you'll swear that you're eating at a four star restaurant. Or, chop up liquorish-flavored fennel; the natural juices will provide an...

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