As far as herbs are concerned, thyme usually gets the short end of the stick. Simon & Garfunkel’s song sums it up pretty well: parsley, sage, rosemary, and (finally) thyme. Few home cooks utilize thyme in their meals on a regular basis, and even fewer actually know how to use it in their recipes–unless they’re boning up on French culinary technique.
But it’s still winter in much of the country, and fresh thyme is a seasonal herb that thrives during these chilly days, so it’s a perfect herb to grow at home or pick up at the local farmers market. There are few things I keep consistently on hand in my home cookery kitchen, and fresh herbs are among them (the others are good olive oil and lemons).
In my opinion, thyme outshines the more popular leafy herbs like cilantro and parsley because it’s actually much more versatile. Though possible, it’s much less appealing to use leafy herbs in sweet dishes and desserts, but fresh thyme (technically a woody herb) does something magical in sweet dishes. Paired up with fruits, sugars, pies, and cookies, thyme transcends the savory boundaries typical of herbs and brings sweet flavors to an unparalleled level of sophistication.
Orange and thyme-infused tea cake. Panna cotta with lemon-thyme peaches. Blueberry thyme shortcakes. Just the sound of those dishes makes my mouth water thinking of the possibilities.
Another reason I’m a big fan of fresh thyme is that I can make it into dried thyme at home without even trying—and the outcome is far superior to any dried thyme found at the store. A rather large bundle of fresh thyme costs $1.00 at my local farmers market right now, and often I can only make a dent in that bundle before the herbs start to dry out.
Lo, I simply leave the tied bundle out in a mason jar in my windowsill, and within a week or two, I’m left with a naturally dried bouquet of fantastically fresh, yet now dried, thyme. The dried bundle can be left whole on the windowsill for using in meals as needed, or the leaves can be pulled from each sprig and stored in a sealed jar in the cupboard.
You don’t need to cook a complicated recipe with a zillion foreign ingredients to make thyme taste delicious. In fact, it tastes best when used in simplistic dishes which highlight one or two single flavors.
Here are some stellar ways to try thyme in the kitchen:
1) Thyme-infused spirits (orange and vodka).
Try out a flavor combination of orange peels, thyme, and vodka—and relish every infused sip.
2) Hot healing tea.
Thyme has been used medicinally for sore throats, lung inflammation, immune restoration, and tranquility for millennia. Simmer a few sprigs in warm water for five minutes and strain; add honey to taste and a splash of fresh lemon juice. Sip and melt.
3) Refreshing iced tea.
For something with a natural pep, brew a large pot of green or black tea. Chill it in the fridge with fresh cut oranges, plums, and peaches, along with a few sprigs of herbs. Serve over ice for a gourmet iced tea even Starbucks can’t compete with.
4) Use in fruited desserts. Try these for starters:
Orange Thyme Tea Cakes, Suite 101
Panna Cotta with Lemon-Thyme Peaches, epicurious.
Blueberry Shortcakes, yumsugar