Ruth Bass has covered travel and food for many years as a columnist and former editor for The Berkshire Eagle, a daily Massachusetts newspaper. An avid organic gardener and cook, she was a natural to write "Herbal Salads" -- one in a series of cookbooks that teach readers how to incorporate fresh herbs into a variety of creative salads, soups, main dishes and desserts.
"I was a cook and herb user for a long time before I wrote my first cookbook," she tells Organic Authority.
Bass's recipes are ideal for those of us who buy natural and organic foods, as well as home organic gardeners who plant their own organic herbs. During the winter months, when your herb garden is in "hibernation," you should have no trouble finding quality herbs at your local organic food store.
"Markets are good now -- much better than they were 10 years ago, when I first started doing my books," Bass says. "It wasn't that easy to walk into a supermarket in a relatively small community and find them. In fact, they're so good in stores now that I don't really bother to grow them in the house during the winter. You'll find small quantities in markets, so they're always fresh, and the selection is quite good."
Bass shares two easy recipes -- "Cacik" and "Ensalada de Naranjas" -- in this article. They are international salads (one Middle Eastern, one Mexican) that call for fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Pronounced "jah-jik," cacik is a Middle Eastern specialty made with lots of yogurt and dill. To vary the recipe, add ˝ teaspoon of ground cumin to the yogurt mixture or increase the dill.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups plain yogurt
1 tablespoon finely snipped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon ground dried dill
2 to 3 large garlic cloves, chopped and crushed
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
3 to 4 parsley sprigs
- Mix yogurt, dill and garlic in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
- Gently stir in the cucumber pieces just before serving. Garnish with parsley sprigs.
Bass received this recipe from her sister, who lived in Turkey and Yemen for a while. It's normally served as a side relish, or you can roll it in a tortilla, she says. Our suggestion: Add it to a falafel in place of hummus, or spoon it over cooked fish.
Bass has never grown dill inside her home, but it's a favorite in her outdoor organic garden. Once you plant it, however, be prepared for it to migrate to other parts of your garden.
"We really have to watch it in the spring," she says, "because it has seeded itself in the big vegetable garden. I have to make sure my husband doesn't plow it up! We have dill growing among the beets and carrots. It's about 4 feet tall and lovely to use. It's a beautiful plant when it's tall and swaying in the breeze."
Ensalada de Naranjas
The sweetness of navel oranges and the crispness of cucumbers put fruit and vegetables in happy combination in this traditional Mexican salad.
Makes 4 servings
1 head curly endive or approximately 12 ounces fresh spinach
3 navel oranges, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 large cucumber, unpeeled, sliced very thin
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
3 scallions, cut into Ľ-inch pieces
Ľ cup olive oil
˝ cup vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
- Arrange the washed and drained endive or spinach in a shallow bowl.
- Place the orange and cucumber slices in a decorative pattern over the greens. Sprinkle the oregano and scallions on top.
- Mix the oil, vinegar and pepper to taste, and pour over the salad.
"I came across this recipe a long time ago," Bass says. "I don't remember if it was in Mexico or in a cookbook, and we were having a Mexican Christmas party. We buy long English cucumbers, which are dependably good. In the summertime, we hope to have them in the garden."
As for the oregano, Bass grows both Greek and golden varieties.
"I really love Greek oregano," she says. "You could also use marjoram in this recipe, which is a first cousin to oregano. I often use golden oregano because it has a beautiful color. I've come to like it in the garden. It has very pretty purple blossoms that grow taller than you really ought to let an herb grow!"
For more recipes and insights from Ruth Bass, check our organic blog (updated every weekday) the week of Dec. 11. Be sure to post your comments after you try the featured dishes.