Kentucky Herbs for Summery Food and Drink
Last summer when I heard Nigella Lawson declare mint "undervalued" and propose using it in Zucchini Fritters and Grilled Eggplant Feta Salad, I had a small aha. The herbs that grow beautifully in our garden don't get into the kitchen nearly as much as they deserve. My short-term solution -- inspired by the owners of Meadowbloom Farm, who make herb-filled salads -- has been adding tender herbs (especially tarragon, chives, cilantro, parsley, and mint) to salads and slaws.
A recent Splendid Table radio story about Hmong cooking, and the central role of herbs in a traditional Hmong dish, Chicken Larb, intrigued me. Chicken Larb is an herb salad, too, but on a different plane. Light yet substantial, this intensely flavorful meal goes from serving dish to mouth in crunchy, healthy lettuce leaf wraps.
Julia Rappaport of the Boston Herald offers bartenders' prescriptions for two drinks, one using cilantro, and one using basil and strawberries. Stories about the "new" idea of cocktail impresarios infusing their drinks with fresh herbs began appearing quite a few years ago. One newer angle in Rappaport's story features bartenders growing their own herbs, sometimes in year-round greenhouses right at the restaurant site. Jalapeño gets a mention in this piece as a cocktail ingredient, and in this case, we've had that going on in Lexington, thanks to Al's Bar, for some years now.
Given that rosemary is the herb in this "Blackberry Herb Cocktail," and given the drink's mysterious smoky dark translucent color, surely it could be renamed The Black Rose -- or perhaps that name is taken with the Official Cocktail Registry? Whatever this concoction is called, when made with Roland MacIntosh's wild Powell County (Kentucky) blackberries and resinous fresh rosemary from the Campsie herb garden, this drink earns its place on the summer table.
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