Deborah Madison‘s new book Vegetable Literacy explores the complex (and often, surprising) relationships between vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and other wild plants. For inspiration, we asked the chef and author for her best combinations of summer herbs and vegetables. Get inspired, and try them yourself!
Lovage, a member of the carrot family that’s similar to parsley, is one of Deborah’s favorite herbs. It’s no surprise that it pairs well with carrots, but she also likes to use it with potatoes, tomatoes and wild rice — “anything that wants a bright pick me up,” she told us. Add it to a sandwich or salad with cucumbers, too. Since its flavor is robust, a little goes a long way.
There are many different varieties of basil, a member of the mint family, from well-known Genovese to Thai, purple and lemon-scented basil. These aromatic leaves are the perfect accompaniment to just about any summer vegetable, Deborah says. Green beans and tomatoes are classic, but summer squash, eggplant and new potatoes will partner well, too. Try it with cheese, as in the traditional caprese salad — Deborah recommends fresh cheeses such as mozzarella, ricotta and goat.
Like lovage and parsley, cilantro is a member of the carrot family, and it tends to “take over” a garden, growing into large plants. Don’t overlook the buds of cilantro (also known as green coriander), which are edible and can create a beautiful garnish for dishes. Deborah suggests pairing cilantro with lentils and grains, such as frikeh, as well as beets and other members of the carrot family such as celery and carrots.
Also called rau ram, Vietnamese coriander is a member of the rhubarb family and a little less overpowering than cilantro. Deborah proclaims it “divine!” and recommends tossing the chopped leaves with rice noodles and bean threads. It pairs wonderfully with Thai basil and mint in an herbal finish for a carrot salad, chicken salad, or for topping fish.
Key in French cooking (think a traditional bearnaise sauce), tarragon is less popular in the US, but its strong scent and distinctive flavor enhances many foods. It’s a member of the sunflower family, along with artichokes, chicories and lettuces. Deborah swears by tarragon in egg salad and also combines it with spring vegetables such as asparagus, artichokes and braised leeks. Mix chopped tarragon into an herb butter of fresh mayonnaise to capture its taste. Try it in a creamy herb dressing over a Romaine or Limestone lettuce salad.
Marjoram, like basil, is a member of the mint family, similar to oregano but with a more floral taste and aroma. The Mediterranean herb is ideal for the summer months and can replace basil in a variety of dishes featuring tomatoes and summer squash. Deborah recommends pounding it with garlic and walnuts into a salsa verde, tossing it with pasta, or sprinkling it on a pizza.