I’m off to the United States for the rest of the month, so what better time to write about an herb that grows primarily in the Galilee?
I had my first real run-in with zuta levana (זוטא לבנה) at the Tel Aviv port farmer’s market. Sure, I’d noticed it in plant nurseries before, but I never considered buying it, since it was described as just another herb for making tea.
In any case, the guys from Carmel Yevulim pretty much forced a bunch of herbs on me — it was the end of the day, and they were trying to clear out. So I took it home. Then, the question became what to do with it.
But first, a little about the plant itself: Zuta levana, or white savory, is a small shrub that grows wild in Israel, particularly in the Galilee. It has a pale, slivery color, and its small leaves have a fuzzy texture. The Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry states that the tea is good for easing stomach pains and sore throats. And a warning: Its oil contains pulegone, which is considered dangerous for pregnant women.
And a little confession: I didn’t know anything about this plant was at first, so I tried looking it up online — and didn’t find anything in Wikipedia. So after a bit of research, I wrote the entry myself.
The most obvious solution — since this is what most people do with it. The herb is fragrant, and as a member of the mint family, it has a menthol essence — its smell kind of reminds me of Ben-Gay, but in a good way. And it makes a fabulous tea, with a strong blast of menthol, and the taste of what a friend thought was sage.
CHOPPED IN SALADS
I tossed some leaves into a chopped salad, in place of mint or parsley, and added some black olive tapenade as well. Both have quite prominent flavors, and make an interesting combination, giving salads a taste you don’t expect. (This salad also included tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, onion and carrot).
FRIED OVER COOKED FOODS
The herb is also quite nice as a flavoring for cooked foods. I got good results by frying leaves until crunchy in a bit of olive oil, and sprinkling over vegetables for flavor (See my last post: Crayon-box vegetables).
MIXED WITH OLIVE OIL
Try mixing a few leaves with olive oil and salt, and using to dip bread.
SEASONING FOR FISH
While I didn’t try this at home, since I don’t really cook that much fish, I suspect that it would also be quite good topping a salmon or musht, along with some lemon.