This special herb is a hidden treasure, quite literally at times. It’s flavor is subtle: you know it’s there, and you can’t quite place your finger on it, yet you can definitely tell when it’s missing!

Originating in southern Asia, most commercially dried bay leaves are harvested from the bay laurel plants of Turkey, while another variety is grown in California and often sold fresh. The two varieties have distinctly different flavors.

The ornamental symbol of honor worn in wreaths by Greek and Roman victors and emperors has a long history, and an even more extensive flavor profile. Reminiscent of oregano and thyme, its floral scent is hard to pinpoint, but it brings to life the many layers of flavor in dishes when cooked whole. Known by many names—bay laurel, Roman laurel, sweet bay—and best used freshly dried, bay is a bittering compound, a base to build other flavors upon in soups, stews, and sauces. Bay leaves are also used in meat brines, pickling recipes, and court bouillon, to name a few. You can even use them to add extra flavor to your usual rice or potato recipes.

Note: Contrary to a somewhat-popular belief, the bay laurel plant’s leaves are not poisonous, but the sharp edges can be harmful! Because bay leaves do not cook down, they should be removed before serving to avoid injury to the mouth or digestive tract.


Bouquet Garni

French for “garnished bouquet,” a bouquet garni is just that: a bundle of fresh herbs tied into a bouquet. Traditionally, a bouquet garni includes thyme, parsley, and bay leaves, but adding additional herbs like rosemary, basil, and tarragon is common. For even bolder mixes, try adding citrus zest or cloves to your mix. Simply place the bouquet garni into the pot and let simmer.

To secure your bouquet, use cooking twine to wrap around your bundle if the herbs are fresh. When using dried herbs, it’s best to secure everything in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie off with twine, so the herbs can easily be removed prior to serving. Any excess liquid in the bundle can be squeezed into the dish.


Court Bouillon

It sounds fancier than it is, but this homemade “short broth” will add dimension to any foods you are poaching. Simply combine the following and simmer covered for 30 minutes for a flavor packed liquid in which to cook your seafood or chicken.

5 cups cold water

1 cup white wine

1 leek, white part only, sliced

1 medium onion, sliced

1 celery ribs, sliced

1 lemon, juiced

1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp. whole peppercorns

1 Tbsp. Kosher salt

Fresh parsley sprig


Cinnamon Bay Leaf Tea

Bay leaves pack a nutrient rich punch that aids digestion and has many other health benefits when used in tea. The leaves are full of vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. They help with blood sugar balance and can ease arthritic joint pain, help ease congestion, and soothe body aches!

4–5 bay leaves

1 whole stick cinnamon

1 liter water

Combine ingredients in a pot on the stovetop and simmer for 20 minutes.


Lemon Bay Leaf Simple Syrup

Infused with bay Leaves and lemon peel, this simple syrup will add citrusy herbal flavor to iced tea, lemonade, and cocktails.

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

4 bay Leaves

1 strip lemon peel, (4×1-inch)

Place all ingredients in small saucepan on medium heat. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 3 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Refrigerate overnight to blend flavors. Strain before serving.


Clam Chowder

Perfect for the cool season, this clam chowder recipe wouldn’t be the same without the help of a few bay leaves.

2 cans chopped clams

3 slices bacon, diced

1 medium onions, diced

3 large potatoes, diced

2 Tbsp. flour

1/4 tsp. celery salt

2 whole bay leaves

2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup water

3 cups milk

1 Tbsp. butter

In a large saucepan, cook bacon until lightly browned over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender. Stir flour into onion mixture until blended. Add water and juice from clams, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Stir in potatoes, bay leaves, celery salt, pepper, and salt; cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add in the clams, milk, and butter, and cook until heated through, stirring often. Remove bay leaves before serving. Makes about 10 cups.


Meaty Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce

Getting back to basics with a classic, this made-from-scratch spaghetti sauce tastes better from mom’s kitchen. And the addition of a few bay leaves creates a depth of flavor you won’t get from a jar.

1 lb. lean ground turkey or beef

1 qt. mushrooms, sliced

1 large yellow onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 14.5 oz. can tomato sauce

3 bay leaves

2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive Oil

In a crockpot set on high, combine all tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, and seasoning with bay leaves. While that simmers, brown turkey or beef until cooked through in a large pan coated with olive oil. Add onions and mushrooms and cook until tender. Add meat, onions and mushrooms to the crockpot and turn the temperature to low. Leave for work and enjoy this sauce over a plate of whole wheat spaghetti with some garlic bread when you return home! As with many red sauces, the longer it simmers, the better it will taste!

November 15, 2020