Sage & Turkey, Nature’s Own Sleep Aid
With Thanksgiving approaching it would seem pretty clear that I should turn my attention to Sage. Sage (also known as salvia) is an ancient herb from the Mediterranean region. For centuries it was loved for its culinary and medicinal qualities. It is one of the most used herbs in America. The flavor is smoky, musky, pungent, and slightly minty. It takes the edge off rich foods with strong flavors. Sage was honored as Herb of The Year in 2001.
Although used since ancient times for medicinal purposes and food preservation, sage was not used as a food flavoring until the 17th century. Salvia officinalis is the sage most often used for cooking, with the common gray form having the best flavor. The tricolor, golden and purple sages can be used but tend to be less flavorful. The flowers of any culinary sage are edible, as well as beautiful, and have a more delicate flavor than the leaves. Stems or leaves can also be tossed on hot charcoal where they will add a wonderful aroma to grilled dishes.
High usage of Sage in Europe is concentrated in the Mediterranean countries, where dishes spiced with sage are found from Spain to Greece. The countries that use sage the most is Italy and the United States. Italians most commonly use sage to flavor meat and poultry dishes; especially veal, which is often thought bland. Sage leaves fried in butter until the butter turns brown make an easy and interesting, but not exactly light, sauce to be eaten with Italian gnocchi or, any type of noodles (pasta). Here in the United States, Sage is used extensively in the rich Southern cuisine and a Thanksgiving dinner just isn’t complete without a good sage dressing. With tryptophan in turkey and Sage being a natural calmative, no wonder we go to sleep after a good old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner.
Sage is a very powerful spice and tends to dominate; its slightly bitter taste is not appreciated by some people. It is sometimes combined with garlic and pepper for barbecued or fried meat. Because of its strong taste, combining sage with more subtle-flavored, delicate herbs does not make much sense.
Because of its strong flavor, it can overwhelm so should be used sparingly; unlike the more delicate herbs, it can be added at the beginning of cooking and pairs nicely with other strongly flavored herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, savory, and oregano as well as the lemon herbs.
When sage is unavailable, try a mix of summer savory and thyme.