Lemon Herbs Lend a Light Touch to Food

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Click To Enlarge Photo: Mary Cooke

by Lucinda Hutson
August 1997
from issue #10

While lemon verbena, balm, basil, and thyme are interchangeable in most recipes, each imparts its unique nuance. Don’t hesitate to experiment by substituting one for another, or by creating different combinations. Because these herbs have more fragrance than flavor, you can rarely use too much in a recipe. Lemongrass, on the other hand, has a deeper, more pungent flavor.

Aromatic sprigs of lemon verbena, balm, basil, and thyme make great edible garnishes for sweet and savory dishes, especially when guests are encouraged to pinch and taste, allowing the ensuing aroma of citrus to permeate the air. Use a medley of these herbs to put a lemon twist on the traditional bouquet garni. Add them to vinegars, jellies, punches, teas, salads, steamed vegetables, or any recipe that calls for a hint of lemon.

Small bunches of these herbs should be picked early in the morning when the essential oils are more vital. Store fresh lemon thyme in an airtight container in the refrigerator; the others may be stored with their stems in water until needed, or in the refrigerator for a few days loosely covered with a plastic bag. But remember, they taste best fresh from the garden.

My recipes for Lively Lemony Punch, Grilled Tuna Niçoise with Lemony Herbs, and Lemon Verbena Flan work well together as a light summer menu. These dishes capture the refreshing essence of lemon-scented herbs, providing the versatile and enticing attributes of fresh lemons without the sourness of the seeds.

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