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Spring a break with easy greens



With spring break in full swing, moms, dads and gatekeepers in general need a break in the kitchen, too. For the fine balance between work and life gets fubarred really fast when shepherding kids freshly sprung from school is tossed into the mix.

What do they say in North America? After all the meetings are met, tonight's dinner is gathered, the bathroom sink swabbed, the yoga poses posed and the kids ferried between snowboard and Mandarin lessons, the average working parent has less time to him- or herself than a lunch break. And that's before spring break has broken the parental back.

When it comes to the food department, the best thing about spring is that it brings us the kind of simple pleasures that make a big difference without much effort. And that's what we all want out of life, right?

For instance, my favourite Persian grocer handed me a little bundle of greenery the other day, freshly arrived for Narouz - Persian New Year, held, appropriately, on the first day of spring.

Try it, she said with a big smile. Persian basil. It's like gold. And so it is.

If you Wiki "Persian basil" you won't get what I got, though. Wikipedia says that "Persian basil" is another name for licorice basil or, more correctly, Ocimum basilicum "licorice" , which has silvery leaves. Other references show a bushy, dark green plant with dark purple stems and flowers, much like what we North Americanos call Thai basil.

But my Persian basil, reyhan it's called in Farsi, has pointed, bright green leaves on a sturdy green stem; the buds promise a white, not purple, flower. However, there are so many varieties of basil and they're so easily cultivated, there's no doubt more than one version of reyhan.

What really counts, though, is the amazing flavour - anise with clove and citrus. Subtle and complex, like so many things Persian.

Just wash the leaves and break them over anything, or mix them in natural yogurt, said my friend who, while packing my groceries, advises me on all things Persian. And so I did: trying them first over slices of tomato, then cucumber - the first organic ones I've seen from local hothouses this season - and even a cheese sandwich.

Nothing else needed, and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Or at least notable, capable of impressing the palates of sophisticated kids and parents alike in one simple swoop.

The distinctive Japanese herb shiso, also called perilla, with it's big, serrated, pear-shaped, leaves can do a similar job. You've likely seen it as a garnish for your sushi or sashimi, or doing its taste thing in a maki roll.

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