Savor the savory

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News
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Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, oh, and don’t forget savory. Savory is one of the best herbs no one has heard of. But now the bright green leafy herb is finally getting its due as it’s officially named the 2015 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association.

Even if you have never grown or bought summer savory, you’ve probably tried it without even knowing. It’s used in many dried herb mixtures for stuffing and meat dishes. On its own, it can be used fresh or dried and is traditionally paired with beans. In German, it’s is known as Bohnenkraut, or “bean herb” because the flavor it lends to fresh green beans is unparalleled.

There are actually two savorys: summer and winter, both of which are closely related to the mint family. Winter savory, which has a stronger flavor, is less preferred in cooking due to its bitterness (soups and stews do benefit, however) but summer savory, with its peppery thyme flavor, is ideal for many warm weather dishes, especially for salads and in grilling meats. I’ve already stocked up a nice crop of savory, thanks to local farmer’s markets and a few garden centers.

Savory likes sun and well-drained soil and makes a wonderful container plant. Pop some in a pot with a few annuals such as alyssum and petunias and you’ll have a pretty display. You can harvest the leaves from now until late autumn, the best leaves coming from the new tip growth, and the tiny flowers that appear through the summer can be picked and added to cheeses, salads and fruits, such as plums and pears.

In September. I cut the plants down. After a couple of hours in a 200-degree oven, the leaves and seeds will keep in a mason jar through the winter. While I’m not much of a fan of dried herbs, dried summer savory has an intense, unrestrained flavor. In fact, summer savory is one of the key ingredients in herbes de Provence, a lovely blend of herbs that includes lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme and fennel. You can find the blend in most supermarkets, but with the abundance of herbs this summer, you should really make your own — it’s fresher and more economical. (See recipe.) It is especially good in egg dishes. A pinch in salad dressings or in fresh vegetables enhances the flavor.

Savory is also ideal for those looking to reduce sodium intake, as it brings out the flavor naturally. But the thing to remember is that when adding savory or any fresh herb to a dish, go lightly because the flavor will be more robust than when using dried herbs.

Try making a marinade for chicken breasts out of fresh chopped savory, honey mustard, olive oil, salt, and sherry vinegar. Toss chicken on the grill after 30 minutes of marinating and you’ll be savoring savory in no time. But remember, summer savory is stronger than winter savory, so if you’re using the summer species, you might consider using slightly less than a your recipe calls for.

If you’re just getting started on growing your own herbs, ask the grower at the farmer’s market or herb specialist at the garden center about how to care for your plant. If you treat it right, you’ll be reaping the aromatic rewards all summer.

klawson@detroitnews.com

Spicy Savory Tacos

Fresh savory adds delicious flavor to the beef and chicken filling for these tacos. Create your own taco bar by lining up traditional toppings like cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro, avocado, and your favorite salsa; then let guests help themselves. Recipe from thethymesavor.com

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground chicken or turkey

1/4 cup fresh savory, leaves only

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons dried taco seasoning mix

12 ounce can of dark beer

16 corn taco shells

1 cup sour cream

2 cups Mexican blended cheese, shredded

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded

1 cup salsa

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

2 avocados, peeled and sliced thin

On medium high heat cook beef, chicken, savory and garlic. Once thoroughly cooked, stir in seasoning mix and cook an additional 3-5 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a boil. Cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes and reduce heat to low.

Meanwhile, put remaining ingredients and cilantro in individual serving bowls and heat taco shells according to package directions. Let guests serve themselves. Makes 16 servings.

Per serving: 304 calories; 20 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 59 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 59 mg cholesterol; 370 mg sodium; 17 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Herbes de Provence Blend

Recipe from allrecipes.com

2 tablespoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons dried marjoram

2 tablespoons dried savory

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers

Combine all ingredients in a blender, process on a low to medium setting for about 10 seconds or until the lavender has been broken down into very small pieces. Store in an airtight container. Makes 1/2 cup

Marinated Tomatoes with Lemon and Summer Savory

Summer savory is slightly bitter and has an aroma similar to that of thyme. It adds a unique twist to the typical combination of tomato and basil. Recipe from Cooking Light

3 tomatoes, cut into 6 wedges (about 1 pound)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried summer savory

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

Place the tomato wedges in a medium bowl.

Combine lemon juice and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Pour dressing over tomatoes; toss gently to coat. Let stand 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Serve with a slotted spoon. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving (per 1/2 cup): 40 calories; 1 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat; 23 percent calories from fat); 7 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 153 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 1.5 g fiber.

Warm Potato and Green Bean Salad with Summer Savory

8 ounces green beans, rinsed and ends snapped off

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons summer savory leaves, chopped

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

In a 4- to 5-quart pan over high heat, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well and rinse with cold water until cool (or plunge in ice water); drain again.

In the same pan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add potato slices and cook until tender when pierced, 10 to 12 minutes; drain well and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a 1-cup glass measure, combine shallots and vinegar. In a 1- to 1 1/2-quart pan over medium heat, combine olive oil and summer savory. Stir occasionally until savory is limp and slightly darker and oil is fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. If oil sizzles, reduce heat slightly.

Pour half the oil mixture into the vinegar mixture and stir to combine; season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over warm potatoes and mix gently to coat. Top potatoes with green beans and drizzle remaining oil mixture over beans. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 262 calories; 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 33 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 157 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Black Bean Soup with Garlic and Summer Savory

Recipe adapted from epicurious.com

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup summer savory leaves

6 cups cooked black beans (if canned, drain well)

2 cups water

4 cups chicken stock

Salt and paprika to taste

Heat the olive oil and saute onions and jalapeno pepper for 3 minutes. Add garlic and half of the summer savory, saute for another 3 minutes. Add 2 cups black beans and 2 cups water. Saute, mixing constantly, until all the water is absorbed by the beans, and the mixture is thick. Add the chicken stock and boil for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing all the ingredients so they go through the sieve.. Return liquid to pot and add remaining 4 cups of beans, salt and paprika. Boil for another 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh summer savory leaves. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 291 calories; 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 19 percent calories from fat); 44 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 416 mg sodium; 18 g protein; 16 g fiber.

Savory butter

Recipe from Kate Lawson

If you have a glut of summer savory, make this butter for grilling fish or lamb instead of rosemary.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened slightly

Handful savory leaves

Gently remove the leaves from stems of the savory and chop to release the oils. Mix leaves with butter using a fork. Roll in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours before using. Can also be frozen for later use up to 6 months.

Green Beans and Savory

Recipe from Kate Lawson

1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh summer savory

1 tablespoon butter

Add beans to a pot with the salt. Add the summer savory and water to cover the beans. When the beans are tender, drain and toss with butter. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 58 calories; 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 7 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 8 mg cholesterol; 182 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Savory tips

■Throw in a few chopped tablespoons of summer savory when making meatballs for hints of fresh pepper.

■Wilt a handful of sprigs with fresh kale and serve as a bed under cooked turkey breast slices.

■Add 1/4 cup chopped sprigs to baked eggs and cheese recipes for a savory brunch entree. (5 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 2 slices bread cubed and tossed with 2 tablespoons butter, 2/3 cup shredded cheese, bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.)

■Chop a few tablespoons savory and add to 1/2 cup store-bought salad vinaigrette to dress enough salad for four.

■Savory is excellent with cabbage and Brussels sprouts. It’s wonderful with fresh corn. Soak fresh unhusked corn in lightly salted water for about 1 hour. Peel back the husks. Place a tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, around the corn kernels along with small sprigs of summer savory. Re-cover the corn kernels with the husks and grill over medium-hot coals, turning frequently, for 10-15 minutes.

■Sprinkle chopped fresh savory onto sliced tomatoes, a broiled tomato, or into a baked potato. Use it over new potatoes instead of parsley or mint. Add savory to meatballs and meat loaves. Add a sprig to chilled tomato juice, vegetable juice, or a Bloody Mary. The French use savory in terrines and the English like it with roast duck and game. In Switzerland, savory is used with most green vegetables.

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