Herb-a-licious: Your guide to herby dishes around town

Herb-a-licious: Your guide to herby dishes around town

Once relegated to a scattering around the rim of the plate, herbs have come a long way—especially in this season when fresh ones flourish. Find them on area restaurant menus—from cocktails to desserts—and get herby with it.

Prime your palate with Tempo’s strawberry basil martini made with freshly muddled strawberries and basil leaves, a squeeze of lemon, simple syrup, and vodka, served up in a martini glass that’s garnished with a strawberry.

The guacamole at Aqui es Mexico wouldn’t taste nearly as authentic without the generous handful of cilantro that punches up the big chunks of avocado and diced tomatoes.

At Horse & Hound Gastropub, roasted corn cut from the cob and diced zucchini join basil, chives, and parsley in fluffy fritters that become even more irresistible when dipped in the two housemade sauces—creamy grainy mustard and sweet red pepper jelly—that accompany them.

Parsley and mint abound in the fava bean-based falafel at Afghan Kabob Palace. It makes a perfect lunch served over romaine lettuce with tomatoes and tahini.

Fragrant rosemary flavors Mona Lisa Pasta’s housemade focaccia, which serves as a base for the hearty sandwiches. For a double dose of herbs, the La Giaconda gets a basil/sundried tomato pesto smear beneath the fresh mozzarella and tomatoes.

Love it or hate it

Few things divide a crowd like cilantro. This dichotomizing herb has been the subject of both odes and hate-based blogs. Lovers call its flavor verdant, haters call it soapy. Curiously, coriander (the name for its seed) is said to have been derived from the Greek word for “bed bug” because its aroma has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes. Don’t know about that, but squashed stink bugs come close.

It’s the purple-stemmed, narrow-leaved thai basil that gives Monsoon Siam’s spicy roasted tofu with basil its flair, but the sliced red pepper, onions, and green chili makes the dish sweet and full of heat.

The farmer’s pasta at Orzo changes with what’s delivered by the farmers, but whether the housemade noodles are graced with spinach or asparagus or radishes (or all three), it gets a light sauce made with ouzo, preserved lemon, butter, and a shower of fine herbes—chives, parsley, chervil, thyme, and tarragon.

At the Blue Light Grill, crème fraîche panna cotta shares the dessert plate with macerated strawberries and lemon-sage shortbreads.—Megan J. Headley

Herbaceous look alikes

Most of us can tell our basil from our sage, but there are a few herbs out there with doppelgangers. Here’s how to spy the difference.

Marjoram or oregano? Oregano leaves are smaller and furrier than marjoram’s bigger, smoother leaves. Marjoram is sweet and lemony. Oregano is pungent and earthy. Oregano can withstand the heat of cooking, whereas marjoram should be added to a dish at the end.

Parsley or cilantro? Flat-leaf parsley has a bigger leaf with sharper edges and a thick stem. Cilantro’s leaf is smaller with more ruffly edges and a lankier stem. One sniff answers the question too—parsley is peppery and cilantro is citrusy.

Winter savory or rosemary? Both have long slender leaves off of a hearty, central stem, but savory leaves are wider and more flexible than rosemary’s more needle-like leaves. And, winter savory tastes spicier than rosemary’s piney flavor.—M.J.H.

Shoo fly pot

Basil, that favorite of herbs for everything from caprese to pesto, also helps keep flies and mosquitoes away. Plant basil outside next to your doors or put a pot indoors on the windowsill and retire your fly swatter.