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The real dill: fresh herbs punch up everyday dishes

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Yam Rösti, or hashbrowns made with shredded yams, take on an Indian flavor when seasoned with coriander, cumin and cilantro.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As outdoor temperatures rise safely past the frost and freeze risks, it's time to set out fresh herbs. I'd just purchased some small pots of herbs to add to my kitchen garden, when a timely book came across my desk."Cooking with Herbs" by Lynn Alley is a delightful little (about 7- by 7-inch) book packed with sage advice about growing herbs and using them in recipes.The recipes in "Cooking with Herbs" are fairly simple, the better to showcase the herbs. Alley equates her repertoire of uncomplicated, basic recipes to the little black dress in a well-dressed woman's closet. She says the recipes should be dependable and flexible, allowing for accessories/additional ingredients to dress them up or to tailor for a specific flavor.Alley defines the difference between herbs and spices. An herb is the green part, or leaves, of aromatic plants. Spices are the woody plant parts and seeds, such as cinnamon (bark) or coriander seed.This weekend, I made Grits with Smoked Gouda, Sharp Cheddar, Onions, Chives and Parsley to accompany grilled steak. The subtle smokehouse flavor from the Gouda cheese complemented the hearty meat nicely.The grit recipe is a good example of Alley's approach to gussying up a simple recipe. It starts with a recipe for basic polenta, which she uses for that recipe, as well as Polenta with Marinara, Ricotta Cheese and Basil and Southwestern Grits with Tomatoes, Queso Fresco, Onion, Olives, Cilantro, Avocado and Lime. With names that specific, you can gather your ingredient lists just from titles.Alley makes her basic polenta in a slow cooker instead of the more traditional stovetop method. I didn't get started early enough to do that, so I just made it on the stove according to the package instructions.A word about the difference between polenta and grits. They're both made from coarsely ground cornmeal. Grits are usually made from white corn or homily and are served like a soft porridge. Grits were originally considered a Southern breakfast food, but their popularity has spread, both geographically and beyond the morning meal.Italian Polenta is made from yellow cornmeal. It can be eaten soft like grits or cooled and cut into strips, which are grilled or fried. My mother, who is not a bit Italian, used to make a loaf of polenta, fry the slices and serve it for breakfast with syrup. We called it "cornmeal mush."Other recipes that I'll try are Yam Rösti with Indian Flavors, which is basically hash browns made with yams, Greek-Style Rice Salad with Dill Dressing and Curry-Cilantro Cream Cheese Spread.Alley's cookbook calls for 10 fresh herbs: mint, dill, rosemary, thyme, parsley, tarragon, sate, basil, cilantro and oregano. They're all easy to grow and add a lot of fresh flavor without much effort or fat."Cooking with Herbs" by Lynn Alley retails for $16.99 and will soon be stocked at Books A Million's Southridge location.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230. Basic Polenta - slow cooker method
Serves 4 to 6.5 cups water1 cup polenta, or coarsely ground cornmeal1 teaspoon saltCOMBINE all the ingredients in a 4-quart slow cooking. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or on high or about 1 1/2 hours, stirring a few times, until the polenta is creamy and the grains are tender. 
Grits with Smoked Gouda, Sharp Cheddar, Onions, Chives and Parsley1 tablespoon unsalted butter or oil1/2  medium yellow onion, sliced thinly1 cup grated smoked cheddar or gouda cheese1/4 cup chopped fresh chives1 recipe Basic Polenta, still hot1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddarMELT the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes.STIR the smoked cheddar and chives into the hot polenta. Spoon the polenta into one large serving bowl or four individual bowls. Top with sautéed onion, parsley and sharp cheddar and serve immediately. Yam Rösti with Indian FlavorsServes 42 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil4  large yams1 teaspoon saltFreshly ground black pepper2  teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed2 teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed2 egg whites1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions1/2 serrano chile, chopped finelyPLACE the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat and allow the skillet to heat thoroughly, 3 to 4 minutes. It's important not to get the skillet too hot, as the potatoes on the bottom will cook before the insides are done.PLACE the yams in a large bowl and toss them with salt, pepper, coriander and cumin seeds and egg whites.PLACE the yams in the skillet and press them down with a spatula into an even layer. Cook for about 10 minutes, rotating the skillet a couple of times to avoid hot spots, until the bottom of the rösti is golden brown.LOOSEN the rösti on the sides and bottom of the pan with a spatula, slide the rösti out onto a plate, then slide the rösti back into the pan, browned side up. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the underside of the rösti is also browned.GENTLY RUN a spatula around the sides of and underneath the rösti and slide it onto serving plate. Top with the yogurt, cilantro, scallions, and chile and serve immediately. Greek-Style Rice Salad with Dill DressingServes 4 to 62 cups long-grain brown rice, prepared according to package instructions1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced finely2 medium tomatoes, diced finely1 cup Mediterranean black olives, sliced in half and pitted1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced finely1 7-ounce package feta cheese, crumbledVinaigrette3 cloves garlic, pressed3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice3 tablespoons vinegar2/3 cup olive oil or mixed oils2 teaspoons dill seeds1/4 cup chopped fresh dill leaves1 teaspoon saltFreshly ground black pepperCOMBINE the rice, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, green pepper, and feta in a large bowl.COMBINE the garlic, lemon juice and vinegar in the work bowl of a mini food processor and blend well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Add the dill seeds, dill leaves, salt, and pepper to taste, then pulse until the dressing reaches your desired consistency.TOSS the vinaigrette with the salad. Refrigerate for at least an hour or two before serving. Serve chilled, or let the salad come to room temperature first. Curry-Cilantro Cream Cheese SpreadMakes about 1 cup12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese1/4  cup dry sherry (optional)2 teaspoons curry powder, or more as desired1/4 cup chopped walnuts, plus more for rolling (optional)1/2 cup golden raisins or dried currants1/4 up fresh cilantro leavesSaltCrackers or bread, for servingCOMBINE the cream cheese, cheddar, sherry, if using, and curry powder in the work bowl of a food processor and blend well. Add the walnuts, raisins and cilantro and pulse just until mixed. Be sure to leave plenty of texture. Season with salt to taste.SPOON the mixture into a crock or roll it into a ball and cover it with walnuts, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving on crackers or bread.
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