On these blazing hot days, when it’s deemed “unsafe” to leave the house, it’s easy to fight cabin fever by chipping away at that stash of farm fresh veggies sitting in your fridge! It’s on days like these when I realize how much cooking is a creative outlet for me.
So last week, we had this lemon verbena in the herb share. Although its lovely fragrance made me want to rub it all over my body, I did not have the time to start looking up soap and body lotion recipes. I wanted to make ice cream with it, but do not own an ice cream churner. I had no idea what to do with it. A couple of brain farts later, I had two lovely summery, brunch-y cocktails: Lemon Verbena White Sangria, which unfortunately was consumed before I could photograph it; and the Grapefruit Verbena Martini, which was inspired by the neglected bag of grapefruits I had bought for my husband several days before.
Yesterday, my kitchen transformed into a private set of the Food Network’s show, Chopped, where four chefs compete against one another in three rounds of food prep. The catch? They must use all of four (not necessarily cohesive) ingredients that they pull out of a basket about five seconds before each round begins. My “basket” contained apricots, lemon verbena, spring onions and a random red pepper that my neighbor gave me before she went on vacation. First thing that popped into my head? Salsa! This year’s Independence Day celebration was punctuated by a lovely mango salsa made by my mother’s neighbor. So I guess she was my inspiration. Because what do you do with farm-fresh apricots, just eat them plain? Meh. Make jam? BOR-ing!!! I went with the salsa idea. I found a few other stray ingredients left over from last week’s box and threw those in as well. In retrospect, I think red onions would have worked a little better than the spring onions from the box. So what did I end up doing with the salsa? I marinated some fish with it! And here are the recipes:
Lemon Verbena White Sangria
4 parts dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
1 part peach schnapps
1 part vodka
2 parts mango lemonade
handful of Lemon Verbena leaves, twisted and bruised
*Optional – cut up fruit, such as mango or even apricot!
Combine the wine, vodka and lemon verbena. Muddle and let sit for 15 minutes so that the flavor can infuse into the vodka. Add the schnapps and lemonade, stir and serve!
Grapefruit Verbena Martini
Three 1 1/2 oz shots of chilled vodka
one grapefruit, cut in half.
5-6 lemon verbena leaves, twisted and bruised
seltzer (preferably with some kind of “red” flavor, like pomegranate, raspberry or cherry)
*Optional – cranberry juice concentrate
Ahead of time, place two martini glasses in the freezer. In a cocktail shaker, pour in the vodka and the verbena leaves. Let sit for several minutes. Add 2-3 ice cubes and juice from both grapefruit halves. The best method for this is to simply squeeze the bejeezus out of them over the shaker with your hand and a fork. Don’t bother with some dainty squeezer. Would Brian Flanagan use one? I don’t think so. Cover the shaker. Before shaking, take the glasses out of the freezer and fill the bottom 1/4 with seltzer. Shake and pour over the seltzer. Finish with a drop of cranberry concentrate, which should fall to the bottom of the glass, creating a cool effect. Garnish with a strip of manicured grapefruit rind and a verbena leaf. I used a toothpick to secure them into a fun, spiral formation.
1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped apricots
1 medium red or spring onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1/4 pink grapefruit flesh, chopped; reserve juices
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon verbena leaves
1-2 tablespoons lemon thyme (if you still have some left over!)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 avocado, chopped
Combine the apricot, onion, garlic and bell pepper in a medium bowl. Mix until blended. Add the verbena and thyme, salt and pepper. Mix. Add the grapefruit with some of the juice. Mix. Finally, gently fold in the avocado. If you would like the mixture to be a little more sauce-like, add more grapefruit juice. But remember, as the mixture sits, it will liquify a little as it ferments. *Helpful hint: to peel the apricots, do the ol’ blanching trick. It works great: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water nearby. Once the water is boiling, place the apricots into the pot and cover for less than a minute. Remove with a spoon and immediately submerge in the ice water. The skins should come right off. It’s actually pretty entertaining!
Striped Pangasius with Apricot Salsa
In a shallow pan or bowl, marinate about 1 lb of white fish fillets in a mixture of fresh grapefruit juice, sea salt, white pepper and 2-3 tablespoons of apricot salsa for 15-20 minutes. Remove the fillets from marinade and arrange in a broiler pan (I lined mine with foil for easy cleanup and sprayed it with canola spray). Spoon the leftover marinade over the fillets and perhaps add a little extra salsa. Cover the fish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to check and put it right back in, this time to broil on high for 8-10 minutes, until a little brown and crispy on the edges. Serve with some grilled zucchini.