It can be hard to see past the rainbow of tomatoes, peaches, corn, summer squash, peppers, eggplants, and other summer favorites weighing down tables at farmers tailgate markets right now.
But farmers are also bringing some superstar herbs to markets that pair wonderfully with these vegetables and offer new flavors.
Basil is obviously a summer VIP, particularly alongside tomatoes and mozzarella. You can find this herb by the bunch, in big bags for making pesto, and even as a microgreen. Also look for varieties such as the deeply purple opal basil or narrow-leafed Thai basil, both of which are spicier with hints of anise and clove. Lunar Whale Herbs (ASAP Farmers Market) has African blue basil available, a cross between opal and camphor basil. This type is prized for medicinal properties and as a pollinator, but also makes delicious pesto.
Want to shake up your caprese salad? Try shiso, an herb in the mint family native to Asia, but now found across the world, including Appalachia. Its flavor is somewhere between cumin and basil with a bit of anise and cinnamon as well. It comes in both red or green varieties (or sometimes both). Try layering it with tomato and tofu slices, drizzled with a dressing of sesame oil, soy sauce, and sherry vinegar. Shiso also goes well with cucumbers, either in a salad or to flavor your pickles. Look for shiso from Lee’s One Fortune Farm (ASAP, Black Mountain, West Asheville, River Arts District, and East Ashevillemarkets) or Creekside Farm (ASAP Farmers Market).
Calendula flowers, also known for medicinal uses, add a peppery and colorful zip to salads or soups. Cooked or steeped, the flowers add a warm orange-yellow color to your dishes, similar to saffron. Try folding the petals into scrambled eggs and quiche. Or add them to your favorite cornbread recipe by soaking the petals with the buttermilk before mixing the batter. Find calendula from Lunar Whale Herbs.
At farmers markets now you’ll also find blueberries, blackberries, nectarines, okra, green beans, new potatoes, carrots, salad greens, mushrooms and much more. Markets are also stocked with farm-fresh eggs, bread, cheese, pastries, drinks, and prepared foods. There are more than 100 farmers tailgate markets throughout the Appalachian Grown region. Find them, as well as farms and other local food businesses, in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at appalachiangrown.org.
Prepared by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.