I recently came across a small blurb about buying fresh bay leaves from a French purveyor. It caught my eye because the photo made it appear that you could tie some kitchen twine around the stems and hang this aromatic in your kitchen. I wanted to learn more about this ubiquitous herb, that I use but don’t much about. Here’s what I learned.
Apparently there is “good” bay laurel from Turkey and Central America and then there is the bay laurel from California. The California version is more minty, a little oilier and can be bitter. If you are allergic to bay leaves, or have had allergic like symptoms, it is the California version. Bay Leaves are native to the Mediterranean and have a natural oil that has a similar nose to eucalyptus or clove but a lot more mellow. When you do start to cook with either the fresh or dried versions, remember you don’t need much to reap all the benefits.
Typically, bay leaves are used in vegetarian stocks, brines, and longer cooking dishes like soups and stews. I was intrigued with the idea of adding them to your coals for barbecue like you mesquite wood chips. You can also light a couple on fire and toss them into a covered dish, right before serving, to impart a smoky, aromatic flavor. Bay leaves pair well with anise, lemon, onion, oregano and white pepper. As a matter of fact you can grind dried bay leaves with any of these and make your own spice blend. Stay tuned. When I try this I will let you know.
Fresh bay leaves are usually available in the produce section of your local market or can be found at your farmer’s market. I even found a link to buy them from Amazon, of course. When buying fresh make sure they are Laurel.
Here’s a couple of fun facts about bay leaves. They are a good source of magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin A, C and iron. They are great for digestion and are a natural anti-inflammatory. Food with benefits. I love it!
Here are a few recipes that use bay leaves in a more forward way.
You can serve these together. I think the bay leaf flavors show up very differently. But you can also dip your toe in slowly with one or the other. As always please let me know what you think of these recipes or how you are using bay leaves other than in soups and stews.