Okay, there’s one thing that I feel needs to be understood right off the bat about lemon balm. In case my previous post’s “it’s like you’re eating in an aisle at Bath & Body Works” description wasn’t evocative enough, or if you have never set foot inside this beauty outlet where the air is heavy with the competing aromas of a hundred “scent collections,” I will say it more plainly. Lemon balm has a definite aftertaste (which I think is actually composed of scent rather than taste) of perfume or bath product, or “dish soap” as my friend labeled it tonight. I really enjoy this strange note, in part because it really lets me know I’m eating something novel, but your mileage, as they are fond of saying here on the interweb, may vary.
So keeping this all in mind, here are some results of my lemon balm experimentation. I tried the vinaigrette I wrote about in my last post, a simple affair composed of olive oil and rice wine vinegar and lemon balm. It was yucky – too vinegary, too peppery, no lemon balm flavor at all. Dressings are like my kryptonite right now – I get all insecure and clueless around them, where usually I am quite an improvisational, roll-with-the-punches cook. So I called in Duck as a guest dressing doctor, and we added some lemon olive oil, some sesame oil, a dash of maple syrup, a dash of balsamic, and a shallot. And then it was quite decent, but not worthy of topping my lovely tender asparagus as I had hoped. Good enough for salad, though.
Instead, I threw a handful of lemon balm leaves in with my asparagus as I steamed it. I really liked the flavor it imparted. But it got mixed reviews from my dining companions, again because of the B&BW factor, which can go either way for people, I guess.
My final experimental result was much more successful – in part, perhaps, because I’m the only one who ate it. I made the Cream of Leek Soup with Lemon Balm that I mentioned in my last post. It’s kind of a strange recipe, not very detailed (says the queen of excruciatingly detailed and annotated recipes!), so of course I’ve given my annotated and tweaked version below. But in general, I thought it was a very tasty combination of flavors and a terrific easy lunch.
(Incidentally, I’m so excited to have finally written a post that I feel is worthy of submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week at Coffee and Vanilla. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly event where food bloggers write about herbs and share their stories and recipes and factoids. Cool!)
Read on for my heavily annotated soup recipe…
Leek and Potato Soup with Lemon Balm (adapted from theworldwidegourmet.com)
* 1 T. butter
* 2 t. olive oil
* 1 onion, diced
* 2 leeks + 1 for garnish, thinly sliced into rounds and immersed in a bowl of cold water to remove dirt
* A large handful of lemon balm, chopped
* Stock or broth (I used scrap stock, the original recipe calls for chicken broth)- about 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) per serving*
* 1 large potato, quartered (I used a Russet, so I peeled it. With a new potato you could leave the peel on, I imagine)
* Salt and pepper
* A squeeze of lemon juice + some grated zest
* Redwood Hill Farm goat yogurt (or other yogurt) – 1 large dollop per serving
* Additional chopped lemon balm and a spring of lemon balm per bowl for garnish
1. In a saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium heat and then sweat the onion and 2 sliced leeks**; add the chopped lemon balm; cover and let cook for a few minutes over very low heat so that the ingredients release their juices
2. sweat the third leek in a saucepan separately; set aside until needed***
3. add the stock and the quartered potato to the first mixture; let simmer over medium heat until the potato is cooked
4. purée the soup in the blender on the “liquefy” setting (I used an immersion blender – how much do I love that thing?)
5. season with salt and pepper; add a trickle of lemon juice to taste and a little fresh chopped lemon balm
6. ladle the soup into serving bowls; garnish with a few leek rounds, a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkle of lemon zest, and a sprig of lemon balm.
*What does this even mean? You keep the amount of leek and potato the same while increasing the amount of stock depending on number of people? How very “stone soup”-ish! I guess this means you’ll have a thick potato-leek stew for a few people or a thin vichyssoise for many people. I used 2 cups of stock and had enough for about three full bowls with a nice chowder-consistency. In the future, I would use 3 or more cups of stock, just to get enough soup to justify the effort of making it.
**The original recipe didn’t call for any kind of fat, so I looked up the cooking term “to sweat,” to confirm that there is, indeed, fat involved in cooking the onion and leeks.
***This just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t “sweat” the leek rounds until they were tender enough to eat – that’s what the whole soup-cooking process does for the other leeks. I ended up kind of sauteeing them and kind of steaming them. They were a nice addition to the final soup, but it would taste fine without them and make everything a lot simpler and keep you from dirtying a whole extra pot.