13 dishes with specialty herbs
These unusual herbs add a range of flavors to your cooking, from delicate to exotic
Imagine celery combined with parsley and a little black pepper, and you've got the flavor of lovage. It's not widely cultivated, so you may need to grow your own or encourage a farmer at the market to grow some for you.
Lovage has such a distinct flavor that it does well when tamed by gentler ingredients—like the lettuce, cream, white rice, and leeks in this soup. Use young, glossy leaves; when lovage is too mature, it gets bitter and overpowering.
Recipe: Lovage and Lettuce Soup
One of the most delicate-textured herbs, chervil has a subtle anise-like flavor that's especially good with mildly flavored vegetables and fish.
The gentle licorice-like flavor of chervil leads the swirl of spring flavors in this refined dish fit for a party. It’s fast and easy—just be sure not to overcook the halibut.
Highly aromatic lemon verbena feels almost sticky due to the oils in the leaves that are responsible for its fragrance and pungent lemony flavor. Steep, then strain the leaves to extract their flavor in soups and ice cream bases.
Lemon verbena leaves are very fragrant and make excellent crème brûlée and ice cream. Verbena (as it's most often called) isn't widely available in markets, but it's easy to grow. If you don't happen to have some handy, you can use another aromatic herb such as mint or tarragon.
Recipe: Lemon Verbena Ice Cream
Sweet, tangy, and a little bit spicy, pineapple soup is a traditional meal in Southeast Asia. If you don't have lemon verbena growing in your garden, you could substitute other aromatic Asian herbs such as Thai basil or fresh cilantro..
Closely related to oregano, marjoram tastes similar, but sweeter and more subtle. It's a natural with Italian-style pasta dishes and meats.
The lamb is great, but it’s the toasty garlic sauce that gets drizzled over the top that makes this dish a winner. If you like lamb, but you love garlic, then this is the recipe for you.
Instead of loading pasta shells with lots of cheese, use less and combine it with delicate ribbons of fresh vegetables. A mandoline will give you the most delicate veggie ribbons, but you can also use a vegetable peeler.
Recipe: Vegetable Ribbon Pasta Shells
Also known as perilla, shiso has hints of basil, cinnamon, and anise that pair well with Japanese seasonings and with the mild, buttery flavor of avocados.
The warm anise flavor of shiso, encouraged by the licoricey fennel, comes through clearly in this pretty salad. You can use either red or green shiso (red is slightly stronger in flavor) or a combination.
One of the most important ingredients in Southeast Asian cooking, Thai basil gives a pungent licorice-like aroma and zing to soups, noodle dishes, meats, and seafood.
Think of cilantro on steroids—or the flavor of cilantro that has bolted—and you've got the idea of rau ram. Southeast Asian cooks often serve big sprigs of it along with regular cilantro and basil as a fresh accent for lettuce wraps, noodle dishes, soups, and egg dishes.
Wrap pieces of these hot, smoky crêpes in cool lettuces and aromatic herbs—the mix is called a table salad—and dip into Vietnamese dipping sauce. For table salad, or rau song, use lettuce leaves, thinly sliced cucumber, and any combo of aromatic herb sprigs, including rau ram.
Recipe: Sizzling Saigon Crêpes
Fish stews with curry are common throughout Southeast Asia. We love the simplicity of this version, which uses red curry. If you’re sensative to heat, feel free to go a bit heavier on the curry.
Recipe: Red Curry Fish Stew with Rau Ram