Drink Up: Give your cocktail recipes an unexpected twist by incorporating delicate herbs like mint, coriander, pineapple sage or lemon balm into the mix. You can also use branches of woody herbs such as rosemary as garnish — they’ll double as swizzle sticks and add a little zip to every sip.
Thrill & Grill: Not only is it a great swizzle stick, a sturdy branch of rosemary makes a fantastic skewer for your grilled kebabs. While you’re at it, toss a few dampened bundles of thyme, sage or rosemary directly on hot coals. The oils will mingle with the smoke and impart an irresistible smoky-herbal flavor on everything being grilled.
Make a Splash: Creating your own herb-infused vinegars is a great way to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary. Start by buying some good quality vinegars — red or white wine or cider — not balsamic, then add your herbs making sure they are completely covered by the liquid and let the concoction rest for a couple weeks. Down the road, when you use your flavored vinegars in your salad dressings recipes, you’ll be reminded of the freshness of summer.
Sweeten the Deal: Basil, lavender, rose and edible flowers such as scented geranium are excellent flavorings for all kinds of desserts from delicate sorbets to fragrant fruit muffins. For something unusual, combine sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat and add chopped mint, basil or tarragon. Allow it to cool, strain, discard the leaves and you’re left with a delightful syrup you can drizzle over anything that needs a hint of sugar and spice.
Capture the Flavor: While some herbs are best eaten fresh, many others do a wonderful job at preserving their flavor when dried or frozen. There are plenty of good ways to dry herbs — dehydrators, ovens, air-drying. Freezing is simple too. Try chopping up basil or cilantro and combine with just enough olive oil to form a ball. Freeze the herb balls on a cookie sheet, then bag them and store them in the freezer. Or fill an ice cube tray with herbs and water, then store the cubes in a freezer bag. They’ll be ready to pull out at a moment’s notice to lend delicious flavor to your soups and sauces.
Share Your Bounty: Another fabulous way to make good use of fresh herbs is to share them with others. If you have extra homegrown herbs, fruits and veggies, drop them off at Molbak’s on any Saturday through September 24 and Hopelink will distribute them to its local food banks. Visit molbaks.com for details.
For more tips on how to harvest and preserve the most popular culinary herbs, visit www.molbaks.com/herbs.html or the National Center for Home Food Preservation site at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/