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Prairie Fare: Add Flavor Without Fat, Sodium and Calories

When using herbs for meal preparation, timing is everything to maximize the flavor of fresh herbs.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

You can learn a lot by visiting with your neighbors. The other day, I was admiring my neighbor’s herb garden when he walked over and identified all the plants for me. He plucked a sprig of French tarragon and gave it to me.

I tasted it. Tarragon has a mild, licoricelike flavor. I gave a leaf to my 9-year-old daughter. She examined it, tasted it and nodded at its interesting flavor.

She might actually enjoy food made with tarragon, I thought to myself.

My neighbor told me about a traditional chicken dish that he and his wife, a native of Europe, enjoy. Of course, I wanted to try the recipe. Soon I had a typed copy.

When I returned to my desk at work, I decided to refresh my memory about the virtues of French tarragon, which is widely used in French cuisine. Tarragon originated in Siberia. Its “partial namesake,” Russian tarragon, is a weedy plant with much weaker flavor. It may grow well in your garden, but it won’t do much for your cooking.

When using herbs for meal preparation, timing is everything to maximize the flavor of fresh herbs. Generally, herbs should be harvested before the heat of the day, but after the dew has dried.

Herbs add flavor to all types of dishes without adding calories, fat or sodium. That’s good news for your heart. French tarragon is used in a variety of dishes, such as poultry, fish, potatoes, rice, vinegar, herbed butter, cream sauces, a variety of vegetables and many other dishes.

Don’t go overboard when adding tarragon. In soups and stews, add tarragon during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Otherwise tarragon can overpower the dish. More delicate-flavored herbs may lose their flavor with prolonged cooking, too.

With autumn just around the corner, consider adding some fresh greenery to your home. Don’t forget your windowsills for growing culinary plants. Several herbs, including basil, parsley, marjoram, chives, mint and rosemary, are well suited for growing in pots.

Some herbs can be started from seed or transplanted from outdoor plantings. Place potted herbs in a sunny window and care for them the same as houseplants.

Think of your indoor herb garden as your living spice rack without the sodium.

Herbs can be preserved using a variety of methods, including air drying, oven drying and freezing. Flavored vinegar is safe to prepare at home, but leave herb-flavored oils to experienced food companies.

You can learn more about growing, preserving and cooking with herbs from one of our NDSU Extension Service publications, “Harvesting Herbs for Healthy Eating,” available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h1267w.htm.

Here’s the recipe from my neighbor. In case you don’t have your own herb garden, you can find packages of fresh herbs in the produce section of many grocery stores. Freeze the extra tarragon to use later.

Chicken Tarragon

3- to 4-pound roasting chicken

4 sprigs fresh tarragon

Salt and pepper if desired

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken in roasting pan. Place two sprigs in the cavity of the chicken. Lift the skin of the chicken and press sprigs of tarragon under the skin. Cover and bake until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees when measured in the thickest parts of the bird (approximately 1 1/2 hours). Remove the cover the last 20 minutes or so to allow for browning.

A serving of roasted chicken without the skin (about 3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards) has about 140 calories and 3 grams of fat.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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