Garden-fresh herbs spice up spring menus

| April 3, 2020 | 0 Comments
Ham and Avocado Eggs Benedict is a nice twist on the traditional dish. (Photo: larry Dickenson)

Ham and Avocado Eggs Benedict is a nice twist on the traditional dish. (Photo: larry Dickenson)

With the arrival of spring and warm weather, once again, gardens will flourish with fresh herbs and edible flowers, ready to add flavour to our culinary creations. In this issue, I focus on fresh dill, which, along with other herbs as well as spices, gives recipes an overall complexity of flavours, certain to delight palates. Featured also, in all three recipes, is my versatile Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise. This flavoured mayonnaise remains among my most frequently used “basic recipes” and is always on hand, refrigerated in a handy squeeze bottle and in an airtight plastic container. You can do the same.

Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise: To make 2 C (500 mL), whisk thoroughly together until well blended, 2 C (500 mL) of mayonnaise (regular or low-calorie) with 2 2/3 tbsp (40 mL) of peeled and grated fresh gingerroot and 2½ tsp (13mL) of granulated sugar.


Ham and Avocado Eggs Benedict
Makes 4 servings

With determination to take Eggs Benedict to a new level, I have sandwiched a slice of perfectly ripened avocado between half of a toasted English muffin and the poached egg, but not before drizzling the muffin with Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise and the avocado with Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise. An extra touch of Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise as well as a slice of maple smoked ham complete this innovative stack. For a more robust plate, I include a side of textured barley pilaf studded with mushrooms, sweet peppers and corn, plus a colourful garnish of multi-coloured mini sweet pepper rings and grape tomatoes.

4 whole-wheat English muffins
1½ to 2 tbsp (23 to 30 mL) soft butter
1 tbsp (30 mL) Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise (see introduction)
1 to 2 ripe avocados, cut vertically into
1/3-inch or 0.8-centimetre thick slices
2 tbsp (30 mL) Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise*, divided
4 large eggs
4 slices of maple-smoked cooked ham, hand-cut (thickness: 1/5” or 0.5 cm)

Sprigs of fresh dill

1. Cut English muffins in half, toast all 8 halves lightly and butter. Set 4 of the toasted muffin halves aside.
2. Place the remaining 4 muffin halves on 4 individual plates (even in smallish skillets** for a more original presentation). Drizzle each with ¾ tsp (4 mL) of Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise, top with a full slice of avocado and drizzle each slice with about ½ tsp (3 mL) Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise.
3. Poach 4 eggs to the degree of doneness desired, using your preferred poaching technique.
4. For each serving, place one poached egg on top of the slice of avocado, drizzle with 1 tsp (5 mL) of Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise and crown with a slice of ham.
5. Along with the remaining muffin halves, for a more robust presentation, add to each serving ¼ cup (60 mL) of Mushroom Corn Barley Pilaf, grape tomatoes cut in half and thin rings of raw, coloured mini sweet peppers as accompaniments.

* To make 1/3 cup (80 mL) of the Tarragon Hollandaise Mayonnaise Sauce, combine 1/3 cup (80 mL) of mayonnaise, 2/3 tsp (3 mL) of prepared mustard (sandwich type) and a pinch of crushed dried tarragon leaves. Store refrigerated in a well-sealed jar. (Do not heat.)

** These small skillets are available at some grocery stores and kitchen supply stores, in cast iron or enameled aluminum.
How-to tip: To make poached eggs using the boiling water technique, pour about ¾ of an inch (2 cm) of water into a large skillet. Add 1 tsp (5 mL) of white vinegar (to assist in setting the egg white) and a touch of salt; bring the water to a simmer. Working with one egg at a time, break it into a small bowl and slip the egg into the simmering water. Repeat this process for the remainder of the eggs. Allow the eggs to cook uncovered until the whites are almost set. Bathe the top of the yolks with spoonfuls of simmering water until a film forms over the yolks. If necessary, continue to cook the eggs only until the whites are firm, but the yolks are still soft. (Note: Some people do not like their yolks runny. In that case, cover the skillet and allow the yolks to cook to the desired degree of doneness.) Carefully lift out the eggs with a slotted pancake flipper and allow excess water to drain off. If necessary, trim edges with a small sharp knife to form neat, circular, poached eggs.


Mushroom Corn Barley Pilaf 
Makes 1½ cups or 375 mL

This recipe is wonderfully versatile. Serve it hot, chilled or at room temperature as a side dish. The flavour combinations of the pilaf work well with seasoned, glazed and grilled meat, fish, poultry and pork.

¾ tsp (4 mL) minced fresh garlic
½ tsp (3 mL) finely grated fresh gingerroot
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
½ cup (125 mL) diced (¼ inch or 0.6 cm) fresh mushrooms (e.g., cremini, shiitake)
½ cup (125 mL) diced (¼ inch or 0.6 cm) fresh red bell pepper (seeds and stems removed)
To taste, salt and crushed black peppercorns
½ cup (125 mL) cooked kernels of sweet, fresh corn
½ cup (125 mL) cooked barley*
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh mint leaves

1. In a non-stick medium-size skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic and ginger in butter for a minute, stirring constantly.
2. Add mushrooms and sauté for a couple of minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and crushed black peppercorns and stirring frequently. Add red pepper and sauté another minute. (Note: The pepper should still be quite crisp.)
3. Add corn and barley and stir until just heated through. Add extra butter if desired.
4. Transfer pilaf promptly to a bowl, sprinkle with chopped mint and toss. If desired, add salt and/or crushed black peppercorns to taste.
* Alternative option: Cooked orzo.

To cook pearl barley
Makes 3 cups or 750 mL

1 cup (250 mL) pearl barley

1. Rinse barley several times with cold water until rinse water is clear.
2. Place in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with 2 inches (5 cm) of water; salt to taste.
3. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat. Cover securely and simmer until cooked (about 20 to 22 minutes). Note: The barley pearls should be slightly chewy, but tender.
4. Drain very well. Spread on 3 large dinner plates tossing lightly with a fork to allow extra moisture to evaporate as the barley cools.
5. Place in airtight plastic containers and store refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for months.


Exotic Smoked Salmon Potato Cups make a memorable hors d'oeuvres. (Photo: Margaret Dickenson)

Exotic Smoked Salmon Potato Cups make a memorable hors d’oeuvres. (Photo: Margaret Dickenson)

Exotic Smoked Salmon Potato Cups
(Makes 24 pieces)

Memorable hors d’oeuvres generally deliver something unique in flavour and presentation. In this recipe, the layering of several tasty elements presented in well-balanced proportions offers an exotic culinary experience with the unexpected zip of specks of wasabi paste.

12 tiny* potatoes (total weight: 8 oz or 250 g)
2 tbsp (30 mL) Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise (see introduction)
2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 mL) sour cream, divided
1/3 cup (80 mL) smoked salmon, chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) wasabi paste
A few stems of fresh dill weed

1. Cook unpeeled potatoes in salted boiling water until just tender.** (Avoid overcooking.)
2. Cut each potato in half. Arrange on a cutting board with cut-side up, trimming bottoms if necessary, allowing the potato halves to sit level. With a small spoon (e.g. ¼ tsp (1 mL) round measuring spoon) remove much of the interior of each potato half to create a mini potato cup. (Avoid cracking the sides and piercing the bottoms of the cups.)
3. Add ¼ tsp (1 ml) of Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise to the bottom of each cup; then, fill cups with sour cream.
4. Crown each cup with smoked salmon (about ½ to ¾ tsp or 2.5 to 4 mL).
5. Add a drop of sour cream, then top with a small cluster of caviar pearls.
6. Strategically, tuck just 2 well-separated specks of wasabi paste into the folds of the smoked salmon.
7. Garnish Smoked Salmon Potato Cups with delicate sprigs of fresh dill weed.
* Choose well-shaped round small potatoes, about 2 bites in size, so that when cut in half and filled, will create 2 “one-bite” size hors d’oeuvres.
** Potatoes may be cooked a day in advance and stored refrigerated.


The cranberries in this fried trout with cranberry-herb stuffing offer an interesting counterpoint to the dish. (Photo: larry Dickenson)

The cranberries in this fried trout with cranberry-herb stuffing offer an interesting counterpoint to the dish. (Photo: larry Dickenson)

Fried Trout with Cranberry-Herb Stuffing
Makes 4 servings

In this recipe, whole trout is infused with the flavour and fragrance of nutmeg, tarragon and dill. Adding an element of surprise, dried cranberries complement the herbs and spice.

2 whole trout (about 12 oz or 350 g each), cleaned
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground nutmeg
1 tbsp (15 mL) crushed dried tarragon leaves
½ cup (125 mL) dried cranberries
3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped fresh dill weed
½ cup (125 mL) lightly spiced flour
3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
1½ cups (375 mL) Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise* (See introduction)

Garnish (optional)
long sprigs of fresh dill

1. Remove scales from fish. Wipe exterior and interior of fish with paper towels.
2. Sprinkle all interior surfaces evenly and fairly generously with nutmeg, tarragon and then chopped dill weed. Fill cavities with dried cranberries.
3. Secure cavity of each fish closed with 2 or 3 toothpicks or metal skewers. Carefully dust the exterior of fish completely with lightly spiced flour.
4. In a large preheated skillet over medium-high heat, fry the whole stuffed fish in hot oil and melted butter.
5. When the first side is golden brown (about 8 to 10 minutes), turn fish over. Cook the second side until thickest part of flesh begins to become opaque and flakes easily with a fork (about 16 to 20 minutes). Avoid overcooking.
6. Remove toothpicks/skewers and if desired, the skin. Using a sharp knife, release the head from the body of the fish and discard.
7. To serve, cut each fish into 2 equal portions and place one portion on each of four individual dinner plates. Garnish each portion of trout artistically with a long sprig of fresh dill. Drizzle plates with Zesty Ginger Mayonnaise.
8. Pass remaining mayonnaise sauce in a separate bowl at the table.

* To make ½ (125 mL) cup of lightly spiced flour, combine ½ cup (125 mL) flour, ¾ tsp (4 mL) curry powder, ½ tsp (3 mL) salt, ½ tsp (3 mL) crushed dried tarragon leaves, ¼ tsp (1 mL) crushed black peppercorns, ¼ tsp (1 mL) garlic powder, ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp (1 mL) powdered mustard.

Margaret Dickenson is a cookbook author, TV host, menu and recipe developer and a protocol, business and etiquette instructor.

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Category: Delights

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Margaret Dickenson wrote the awardwinning cookbook, Margaret’s Table — Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining (

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