Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stealing from the Garden: Easy Herb Rub Gifts

You know the tired old saying, "When life gives you lemons..." Well, life has given me several lemons this year which has meant that holiday gifts will be handmade for most of my friends and loved ones. Fortunately, lemonade isn't the only option; the lemons can also be turned into zest, accompanied by fresh thyme leaves, garlic and sea salt to make one delicious and even beautiful rub.

I learned this trick from a Twitter exchange with Judy Witts Francini, the Divina Cucina, and she directed me to David Lebovitz's post about it. Their rub is a fabulous mixture of rosemary, sage, garlic and coarse salt. I made a batch earlier this past fall and it's extraordinary as a rub on chicken or pork, added to soup or roasted vegetables or added to olive oil to enhance it for dipping.

Judy, of course, pointed out that any good combination of herbs and salts will work so I've been scavenging my garden, which has oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley and other herbs growing madly. Since my rosemary has gone especially crazy this year, it was the perfect way to get some pruning done and have something edible as well.

So, I next made a big batch of rosemary, garlic and sea salt rub. I took big bunches of clipped rosemary and stripped the green leaves from the stems. To this I added about eight large cloves of fresh garlic and about 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt.

At first, I did the mincing by hand with a knife, then using my mezzaluna. But I finally yielded to practicality and put it all in my food processor. If there's a difference in outcome I can't tell but it saved me at least half an hour. Then I spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet for it to air dry for about three days. Don't dry it at low heat in the oven. You'll lose the oils that make this so aromatic. Plus, air drying makes your house smell outrageously wonderful!

Every day, mix it around a little with your fingers so that any remaining clumps can get exposed to the air and pull apart. When the ingredients feel dry, then store the rub in a tin or glass jar out of the light. This batch made just over two cups of rub -- enough for three gift jars. Oh and a tin for me.

Use the same technique for the thyme, lemon, garlic, sea salt rub. The ingredients are slightly different.

You'll need to zest the lemons and strip the thyme sprigs of the leaves. The first batch I made last week was large--I clipped big bunches of thyme, zested two bags of lemons from Trader Joe's, used about eight large cloves of garlic and about two tablespoons of coarse sea salt. This morning I made another batch. I only had three Meyer lemons from my mom's garden, so I used a smaller amount of thyme than before.

The bunch I clipped weighed 1 3/4 ounces before I stripped the leaves, ultimately yielding 3/4 of an ounce. The zest weighed 1/4 of an ounce. I used five cloves of garlic (I do love garlic; use less if you're not as fanatical) and 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Everything went into the Cuisinart. Here's the very moist result just after being placed on the baking sheet:

As it dries, the colors will actually become more vibrant. I've been putting the ones I've been gifting in lovely little clear jars with stoppers from CostPlus. This batch, though, will be for me and go in a tin, also from CostPlus. These rubs do make great little gifts, but just remember that you'll need a lot of herbs to get a good yield for the rub. That big batch of the thyme, lemon, garlic, salt rub I made last week? It made about one and 1/4 cups, enough for two jars about four inches high (holding just over 1/2 cup) and a bit left over for me to use on one chicken meal.

Now I'm eying the unruly oregano bush and mulling what to combine with it for a rub. Perhaps parsley, hot pepper flakes, garlic and sea salt.

Next up? Bottles of rosemary-infused olive oil, done the safe way. Stay tuned. I'm just waiting for the washed bottles to thoroughly dry inside.

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  1. Lovely! I'm still trying to get going on making something for this year!

  2. Wow, that was fast! These look beautiful and I'm going to get started ASAP. Thanks so much for posting!!

  3. The rosemary garlic rub is wonderful! We were going to use it on some steaks but ended up Christmas shopping right through dinner last night! But I tasted it as soon as I opened it ;-) It will be so good on some roasted potatoes, too! Can't wait!