Savory is the Herb of the Year for 2015.
Native to Western and Central Asia and around the Mediterranean, savory comes in two forms, winter and summer, both of which grow well here. Summer savoryis a tender annual, while winter savory is just that—evergreen and available for use year-round.
Less well-known is that both summer and winter savory have settled in the U.S., making themselves at home in the wild as well as in our kitchens. Summer savory is found in scattered areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states and as far west as Illinois and Wisconsin. Though an annual, it drops seed which sprouts readily in spring. Winter savory has been reported in the wild only in New York.
In its native Mediterranean area it is a part of some traditional dishes, including Bulgarian pork (slowly braised pork with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, white wine, and enhanced with savory), and cabbage rolls (stuffed with a rice/ground meat/savory mixture). Across the Black Sea from Bulgaria, savory is as common in Georgian kitchens as oregano is here, appearing in a variety of meat, egg, and lentil dishes.
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is a culinary star. It gets accolades for what it adds to beans and bean salads: a mid-summer lunch of white beans, chopped tomato, cucumber, onions, parsley, summer savory, and a light dressing just can’t be beat. It adds a bright, peppery flavor that perfectly balances the mild beans and veggies. Fresh leaves are best, but if you have an abundance, they dry well and will give good flavor over the course of fall and winter.
In the garden, summer savory can be a little demanding. Its light green leaves are attractive and flavorful, and the white to pinkish flowers are good for pollinators, but the multi-branched plant grows quickly to 12 inches or more and tends to get leggy. It is then subject to falling over in a summer rain-storm. You can stake them, or better yet, plant them among taller herbs and flowers which will act as supports.
Summer savory is an annual plant here and does best if seed is planted in the ground well past our last freeze date. It transplants easily, so purchased plants will let you get a head start.
Sprinkle chopped leaves liberally on fresh tomatoes and use with any vegetable. Use them in dressings, vinegar blends, or add a sprig or two to bouquet garni (a small bundle of mixed herb sprigs tied with string to drop into a pot).
Savory in both of its forms aids digestion, making it especially useful with beans. There are claims that crushed fresh savory leaves will alleviate the pain of bee stings, and it was used historically as an antiseptic and diuretic.
Winter savory (Satureja montana) is a lovely little plant that though some say it is not winter hardy here, does quite well in my garden as a perennial, providing fresh green sprigs year-round. Admittedly, in winter the little leaves may be a bit tougher, but they are still full of a pungent flavor akin to thyme.
S. montana var. illyricia,
purple winter savory
If you have a sensitivity to black pepper, adding winter savory to your foods will give a little of the same piquant taste.
Winter savory starts to send up fresh sprigs early in spring, rapidly forming mounds of tender stems 8-10 inches long. As the stems grow they become woody, the better to withstand winter. They produce small white flowers attractive to bees. Cutting back the longer stems a couple of times a year gives you plenty to dry for winter use when it is too cold to go outside, and opens the plant for better air circulation. You will also get a new flush of growth mid-summer.
Both winter and summer savory do best in full sun, and thrive in average garden soil.
Winter savory can be added to soups, stews, and vegetables. Canned and frozen vegetables, on which we rely in the winter, benefit from the addition of freshly picked savory which will bring back some of the bright flavor of fresh vegetables. It is also particularly good in rustic bean or potato dishes, adding depth of flavor
Savory of both forms is found in such commercial products as salami, sausage, and pickles. It pairs well with eggs, lentils, and stuffings, and is a part of blends for herbal liqueurs, vermouth and bitters.
8 ounces heavy cream
4 or more tablespoons grated horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh summer savory
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whip cream until thick. Blend remaining ingredients in a small bowl, then fold into cream. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. Serve with salmon, tuna, roast beef, or pork.
Green Bean, Gruyere, and Savory Salad
1 pound fresh green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon chopped fresh summer savory
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Separate onion slices into rings. Steam beans until just tender, about 5 minutes. While still hot, place in a medium-size bowl, and add all ingredients except cheese. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or longer, stirring occasionally.
To serve, place beans onto a serving platter and sprinkle with cheese.
Savory Marinade for Beef
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 shallots, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh winter savory (2 teaspoons dried)
Blend ingredients thoroughly. Place meat into a container and pour marinade over, coating meat. Cover tightly and place in refrigerator. Allow meat to marinate overnight or about 12 hours, turning several times. Drain off and discard the marinade, and cook as desired.
Khmeli-suneli (Georgian spice blend)
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 tablespoons dried summer savory
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoons coriander seed
1 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Blend all ingredients in a clean coffee grinder. Store tightly covered and use to flavor meats or sauces, such as Satsivi, a walnut sauce for meats and vegetables.
3 cups toasted walnuts, plus ½ cup roughly chopped
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Khmeli-suneli
Place 3 cups walnuts and ½ cup stock in a food processor; purée until very smooth. Add garlic, onions, and Khmeli-suneli spice blend. Blend until very smooth. Serve as a dipping sauce for bread, fish, or vegetables.