Relearning to cook Paleo gives us the tremendous opportunity to engage our other senses in food preparation. Relying on aromatic smells and vibrant colors before we even taste our food heightens our sense of anticipation, and our food will automatically taste better. The best way to do this is to selectively include fresh herbs and spices into recipes.
The key word here is fresh. Your spice rack does not qualify. Dehydrated basil, oregano, dill, cilantro, and thyme are no match for the fresh, living herbs, and pre-ground pepper, cumin, or mustard seed lacks the punch of freshly cracked varieties. I used to only include fresh herbs and spices on special occasions when I made grocery store trips to shop specifically for a meal and a recipe. Now I barely touch my spice rack.
If you're relying on your grocery store's produce section for your fresh herbs, you're doing it wrong - not that those herbs aren't fresh, but they're obscenely overpriced and particularly so for the little plastic clamshell encased varieties. Far more cost-effective is to get your herbs from your local garden nursery. Keeping an herb garden gives you a plentiful supply of the freshest herbs possible, and it also fills your home with their fragrance. If you must buy your herbs from the grocery store, hunt among the leafy produce for bunch herbs - it's a far better value than the clamshell containers. Once you get home get a full-sheet dry paper towel, wrap your herbs, and seal them in a ziploc bag for freshness. I recommend keeping a supply of basil, oregano, thyme, dill weed, cilantro, parsley, and mint around at all times.
For spices, a set of grinders or a mortar & pestle is key. Grinding whole seed spices ensures you get the sharpest flavors and most aromatic smells. Try buying whole cumin seed, pan roast it with a little olive oil for several minutes, and then crush it with your mortar. Compare to pre-ground cumin from the spice aisle. You'll be amazed at how much more potent and pleasant the fresh varieties are.
Once you have your herbs and spices, figuring out how to use them comes next. My best recommendation is to experiment. Herbs and spices have such synergetic influences on food it's difficult to imagine how the final result will turn out until you've tasted them. Try making adding some fresh spearmint leaves to your salads, particularly if there are tomatoes and/or cucumbers involved. My morning eggs usually get spiced with dill weed or with cilantro & ground cumin. Fresh basil and oregano together automatically make for an Italian accent to a dish. Try roasting your pork with some fresh apple slices and thyme sprigs.
Beyond the flavor and aromatic sensations, fresh herbs have nutrients and phytochemicals that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Recent research has even shown herbs to be one of the best natural sources of anti-angiogenic chemicals which that research suggests can prevent cancer growth.
Lime Cilantro Flank Steak with Herb Chimichurri
Chimichurri is a sauce made from finely chopped fresh herbs and vinegar, originally from the steppes of Patagonia. When I make this recipe I tend to make extra sauce, just because it's so good - you can spoon it on eggs, other meats, or even vegetables long after you've eaten the flank steak. We particularly love to bring along a couple of these flank steaks to outdoor grilling parties with some chimichurri made in advance. Cooking the steak over charcoal and then serving it with the vibrantly glowing green herb sauce comes as a welcome shock to people expecting ordinary hot dogs and frozen burger patties. And there's nothing quite like the smell of the chimichurri right after you finish puréeing it.
For the steak
- 2lb of flank steak
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 3 limes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- sea salt and pepper to taste
For the chimichurri
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped basil
- 1 tbsp chopped oregano
- 1/2 small vidalia onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground cumin
- 1/8 cup olive oil
- 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce
Pound the flank steak with a meat tenderizer (or the back of a skillet) to soften it a bit. Put it in a gallon ziploc bag with crushed garlic, squeezed limes, olive oil, salt and pepper and seal tightly. Shake and massage the bag to mix the ingredients and spread them around the flank steak. Marinate for as long as you can, up to 24 hours, turning and massaging occasionally.
Heat the broiler to full heat with the broiling pan inside for 5 minutes. Pull the pan while hot and put the steak flat onto the broiling pan. Broil about 6 minutes each side, turning once. Slice the flank steak perpendicular to the grains of the meat.
Combine the ingredients for the chimichurri into a food processor and purée to a bright green sauce. Pour a moderate amount over each strip of the flank steak and enjoy.