Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Herbes de Provence

Either Herbes de Provence is making a serious comeback or I've just been living under a rock. It's been popping up in recipes everywhere, which is great except it's not cheap and not always easy to find. One of my sisters was having a hard time finding it back in Redondo so we decided to make it ourselves. We had most of the herbs ready for the picking in my parents garden, and what we didn't have we could easily get, fresh at the Riviera Village Farmers Market.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on which herbs should be included in Herbes de Provence. I wanted to make a versatile blend so I used five basic provencal herbs: rosemary, savory, marjoram, thyme, and lavender. Some other variations include basil, bay leaf, chervil, tarragon, and/or fennel. As long as the herbs being used are those typical of Provence, I think it's safe to call it Herbes de Provence.

Basic Herbes de Provence Recipe:

5 Tbsp dried thyme
3 Tbsp dried summer savory

2 Tbsp dried marjoram
5 Tbsp dried rosemary
1 ½ Tbsp dried lavender

How to Dry Herbs:

I took a backwards approach and did all my research after I was done drying... My herbs turned out fine but now I know how to do it more efficiently the next time around. One of the best articles I came across was The Low-Tech Art of Drying Herbs by Joanne Gardener. If you're really interested in drying herbs I highly recommend it. Joanne explains:

"The secret to success [of herb drying] is to treat herbs individually according to their needs and to dry them as fast as possible after harvesting. I divide herbs for drying into two basic groups: those such as mints (with the exception of apple mint) that are quick-drying and can be dried by the traditional bunching method, and those such as lovage, parsley and basil, which don’t dry well by bunching and should be chopped, then laid to dry on trays or screens. Those herbs that really don’t dry well, such as chervil and salad burnet, can be preserved in vinegars or only used fresh."

Seems so obvious but I wonder how many people actually do this.. You should also adjust your method based on your location and weather conditions (which I learned the hard way).

My herb drying ended up being quite the social event, starting with my niece, Aliya, helping bundle, then my best friend, Terra, helping hang, and ending with a very late night session of stripping the dry leaves from stems with my mom.

I underestimated the time it takes to air dry herbs, especially in chilly, damp, So Cal beach town weather. Since I had a plane to catch in the morning, I decided to speed up the process and transfer my herbs to a dehydrator.

My herbs were already halfway there so I didn't follow the usual steps, but if you're going straight for the dehydrator and you have time to do it right, I would recommend doing it like so:

1. Remove leaves from stems
2. Place leaves in a single layer on trays
3. Remove unused trays for better airflow
4. Dry on the lowest setting

Back in Brooklyn with my new mortar and pestle in hand! I started with the rosemary because it was the toughest to breakdown. My goal was to grind all of the herbs to roughly the same size so that when blended together I'd get a consistent mixture.

Makes a nice gift for anyone who likes to spend time in the kitchen!

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