Meet Herb

Sometimes called Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel, make sure you don't confuse it with common laurel Prunus laurocerasus, whose leaves are poisonous. The bay tree is an evergreen and does extremely well in tubs or in sheltered areas of your garden. It can be grown as a bushy shrub, trimmed to decorative shapes or allowed to grow into a tree and as such has been known to grow anywhere from 20 to 60 feet. It has dark green glossy leaves, oval shaped, sometimes with wavy edges and produces small greenish flowers in the spring as well as purplish black berries.

Penzey's states that because of the ideal growing condition, the best bay leaves in the world are grown in Turkey. While not as strong in flavour as California bay, they have a natural depth of flavour that is unmatched.

The flavour of bay leaves is well suited to a roast pork or chicken, turkey or ham and pot roasts. Add a couple per quart to tomato sauce or chicken soup. Bay leaves work best under long cooking times, allowing their distinctive flavour to be released. They are part of the classic bouquet garni and are essential in the seasonings for stocks, casseroles, pates and court bouillons. Bay leaves can be used dry, or when available, fresh.

The symbolic meaning of bay . . . honour, loyalty, faithfulness and unchanging affections. For this reason, in Ancient Greece, woven twigs of bay were used to crown their heroes.

Bay Leaf and Oregano Sauce for Meat and Pasta

This is a great variation on the usual tomato sauce for pasta. Quick and easy to make, it can be made in advance and freezes well.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, crushed (if using canned, don't use the ready crushed)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp minced oregano
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onion until softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and continue sautéing for two minutes more. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, for 15 - 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. The sauce is now ready to serve over your favourite pasta shape cooked till just al dente or try it over meatloaf!

  • Yields: about 2 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Black Bean Summer Salad

This is one from Penzey's. It can be made ahead and travels well.
  • 12 oz bag of dry black beans
  • 1 smoked ham shank
  • 4 Turkish bay leaves
  • 3 ears fully cooked sweet corn
  • 1 - 2 perfectly ripe avocados
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/3 cup corn oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • salt to taste

Rinse and pick over the beans, place in a large pot with 1/2 gallon of water and the ham shank. Add the bay leaves. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any foam that rises. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the beans for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from heat, rinse the beans lightly, and set aside. Remove the meat from the bone and chop into bite sized pieces.

Slice the kernels from the corn cobs and place together with beans in a large bowl.

For the dressing, place all the dry spices in a bowl and cover with the water. Let them sit rehydrating for about five minutes. Add the minced onion to the spice paste, cover with the oil, lime juice and red wine vinegar. Whisk vigorously. You can add an extra 1/2 tsp of cayenne to liven up the taste if you like. Add the chopped ham shank meat to the bean and corn mixture and add the dressing, tossing to make sure it's all nicely coated. Peel and mince the avocado and add to the salad mixture, toss well, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Taste just before serving and adjust salt if necessary.

  • Yields: 12 - 16 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes including cooking time

Next month, I'll be featuring various marinades and seasoning mixtures thanks to a reader's request. If there's anything specific you'd like to see in this space, please let me know!

Off to have a weekend with my daughter . . .