This is the time of year when ingredients go from the garden to the table without much human intervention. Vegetables are at their peak, and their flavor can be enhanced more by the simple use of aromatic herbs than by complicated cooking.
Herbs and spices boost not only flavor but health. They are rich in powerful phytochemicals, the plant substances that can protect against a wide range of cancers, heart disease and other chronic diseases. The cancer-protective antioxidant power of herbs and spices is at least as great as that of fruits and vegetables.
Each herb and spice is distinctive in the particular phytochemicals it contains. Oregano, for example, contains quercetin, which has strong antioxidant properties and may be especially protective against breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study shows that oregano offers the most antioxidant activity of all herbs examined: 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes and 12 times more than oranges.
In addition to providing great health benefits, herbs and spices – particularly when used fresh – bring out the flavor and richness of any dish and brighten up bland foods. Studies show that fresh herbs are probably more potent in their health-protective powers than their dried alternatives. And because they provide an intense taste, less salt is necessary.
Oregano, a member of the mint family, has a slightly pungent taste that holds up well in highly-seasoned dishes. Choose bright green, fresh-looking bunches with no sign of wilting or yellowing. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to three days. Oregano goes extremely well with tomato-based dishes.
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Basil also belongs to the mint family. Fresh basil has a pungent flavor sometimes described as a cross between licorice and cloves. Basil has significant levels of vitamins A and C. It is also considered an immune stimulant and contains protective phytochemicals that are thought to have cancer-delaying properties, especially with breast tumors.
Refrigerate basil, wrapped in slightly damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to 4 days. Or refrigerate a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves for up to a week, changing the water every two days.
Both basil and oregano are classic seasonings for tomatoes. They complement green beans as well as each other in the following dish.
Green Beans with Tomatoes and Herbs
- 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 large ripe tomato, diced or 1/2 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes (drained)
- 1 tsp. minced fresh basil (1/2 tsp. dried)
- 1 tsp. minced fresh oregano (1/2 tsp. dried)
- 3/4 lb. trimmed green beans
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add tomato, basil and oregano. Cook 2 minutes. Add green beans. Cover and cook 6 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
1 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
10 g. carbohydrate,
2 g. protein,
2 g. dietary fiber,
10 g. sodium.