Story and photos by Becky Billingsley
Anyone whose cooking skills goes beyond cutting a slit in a plastic wrapper and nuking a box for 90 seconds knows how to use fresh parsley, rosemary, basil and cilantro. Those who want to explore other flavors love seeking out new herbs.
Pete Gerace is a partner with Kris Reynolds at Inlet Culinary Garden in Murrells Inlet, S.C. Their business is a wonderland of greenery with leaves of various sizes, shapes and scents. They're all edible, and Gerace explained how some of the lesser-known varieties are flavor power players when used appropriately.
White or Blue Borage
- The whole plant is edible, and the leaves and flowers taste similar to fresh cucumber. Just lightly chop it and add to salads.
- The fronds of this fern-like Italian plant have attractive silvery foliage. It's in the artichoke family, and the leaves are bundled together to protect them from the sun and keep them tender. You devein the plant's ribs, much like pulling strings from a stalk of celery. "Then you smash and pulverize the ribs enough to break down the fibers," Gerace explained. "You eggwash them, dip them in breadcrumbs and seasoning with Parmesan cheese, and pan-fry them with olive oil and garlic. They taste similar to fried artichoke hearts."
- It looks like parsley, but the flavor is sweeter. It's great in stews.
- Popular in Latin-American cooking, especially bean dishes. "You'll recognize it when you smell it," Gerace said. "It's usually in black beans or pintos, or chopped and used fresh in tacos, fajitas and burritos."
- Okay it's technically not an herb, but instead of using the fruit you use the leaves. Pronounced kaff-EE, this is the flavor in a majority of popular Thai dishes. "This type of lime has lots of extra scent, extra essence," Gerace said.
Mexican Mint Marigold
- An almost equal replacement for licorice-flavored French Tarragon, but Mexican Mint Marigold tolerates heat much better. "I see cooking shows on T.V. where they're saying they're using French Tarragon, but if you look closely you'll see the leaves are much too big to be tarragon," Gerace said. "It's actually Mexican Mint Marigold."
- Leaves and flowers of the nasturtium plant have a peppery, radish/horseradish bite. Add them to salads for an intriguing burst of flavor.
- This is another cucumbery taste that's also an attractive landscape item due to its sylvan foliage. Add it to soups and salads for an interesting flavor layer.
- This is not the Spanish Lavender commonly used to scent soaps and perfumes. Whole sprigs of French Sweet Lavender are used to flavor brown sauces, gravies and savory meats such as lamb, pork, beef and wild game. "Or put a spring in your lemonade," Gerace suggests, "and it adds a whole other scent."
- As the days becomes longer cilantro will turn to seed - a process called bolting - and become coriander. Leaves of the shade-loving Vietnamese Coriander are an exceptional replacement for cilantro.
Herb Marinated Flounder
Pete Gerace, Partner, Inlet Culinary Garden, Murrells Inlet, S.C.
Entree, serves 2
1 handful Vietnamese Coriander leaves
1 handful fresh Mint leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 flounder fillets
Chop Vietnamese Coriander and Mint and place in bowl with olive oil and garlic. Mix well and add fish, turning to coat both sides. Let marinated, covered in the refrigerator, at least one hour before cooking. Remove from marinade, keeping a generous amount of the marinade on the fish. Broil six minutes and serve.