Now is the time to start stocking up on your herbs and using them in creative ways. I've been experimenting with pesto recipes lately. My basic recipe usually omits the cheese and garlic, making a "base" of pesto to which you can add cheese and garlic later, or not at all. I've made pesto with other a mix of herbs such as mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, or whatever is growing in my herb boxes. Mint and basil and parsley are my stand-by herbs, because they are available in abundance and they play well together. Swapping out the nuts is another favorite thing to do - you don't always have to use pine nuts; walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios work beautifully as well, so long as you toast the nuts before adding to the pesto. The other thing I like to do is either blanch or roast the garlic that I'm using, to tame it's sharp, bitter edge.
By adding in kale or spinach, you are boosting the nutritional qualities and adding a much needed chlorophyll component to keeping your pesto bright green. It's also a fantastic way to stretch you pesto without adding fat calories. Plus, when you're stuck with a bunch of kale from your CSA or latest farmers' market purchase, it's a nice way to use that kale in a healthy and useful way.
To make the fully-finished batch of pesto vegan, I simply omitted the cheese and instead used a generous helping of mustard powder as the binding agent. Herbs, spinach or kale, olive oil, roasted or blanched garlic, a nut of choice, salt and pepper and a dash of red or white wine vinegar makes a most inviting pesto that will keep you and many meals happy for weeks or even months to come. I store my pesto in small jars/containers, often freezing them so that I have them on hand for months to come.
As for other ways to use the herbs that are flourishing in your's and the farmers' market gardens, making a batch of basil or other herb oils is key; freezing and drying herbs is also an option. For fragrant but delicate herbs like basil and mint, fill small zip-lock sandwich sized bags with cleaned and dried herbs; press out most of the air that you can, and freeze flat in your freezer. You can break off pieces of the frozen basil or mint as you need it for your cooking dishes. The herbs will look dark and muddy but their fragrant "oomph" will be there for you as soon as the herbs hit the warmer air or saute pan. Drying these two herbs will only diminish and ruin them. They just are not the same and are not worth keeping as dried herbs in your pantry.
Herbs that do best as dried are oregano - and according to my favorite blogger and Instagramer - PhillyFoodist, oregano only comes to life once it's dried. Take bunches of the herb, tie or bind it by the stems and hang upside down somewhere dark and cool for a few days, or alternatively, dry the oregano in your oven, on a sheet pan, while the oven is off, overnight.
Rosemary, tarragon, dill and chives can be dried or frozen - they all work well either way. Cilantro and Parsley I prefer to be fresh but freshly dried is infinitely better than almost any store brand. How I handle my parsely is to clean it, dry it in a clean tea towel, then roughly chop it. I then put the chopped parsley onto a sheet pan or dish and allow it to dry out overnight. It retains a fresh bright green hue and it's snap too. It works well as a dash of "confetti' over a finished dish or in a pasta at serving.
Here's my new version of vegan Kale and Herb Pesto. For my other many pesto recipes, here are some links to check out: Kale, Basil and Herb - Traditional Pesto. Spinach and Basil Pesto (the spinach keeps the pest bright green, stretches it and ads loads of nutrition!). A whole wheat pasta and vegetable medley with pesto (recipe meal ideas here!)
Vegan Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients: Updated from a June 23, 2014 Post
1. Clean the kale, basil, parsley and mint and other herbs you are using. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add in a tablespoon of salt. Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes. Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.
3. Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale leaves and garlic in that same colander, pouring the hot water over the herb leaves. Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process. Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.
4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, (basil and parsley, etc), into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty blender. Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor. The mixture should form a paste. If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil. The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.
5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the toasted and cooled nuts , then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts. Lastly, add in the dry mustard powder and the vinegar and pulse a few more times. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated. Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months. This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks. Adding the kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 2 cups of pesto or more, depending on how generous you are with your handfuls and bunches!
Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, oil, as needed. My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair. I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!