Bay leaves

The Christmas holidays are over, my tree is still up and will be for a few more days, as on the 10th we will have our annual Auxiliary Awards Banquet and most of my time and energy have been focusing on that and as I knew how busy I would be, my column was put together over the 3rd and 4th, which is pretty early for me.
Since the 1st was in the middle of the week, all of the meetings I usually attend have been this past week and now I’m on countdown! My friend and I got together Wednesday (Jan. 8) morning to get things necessary to have with us on the 10th, and hopefully, we haven’t forgotten anything. If not, it will be the first time nothing was forgotten!
First and foremost let me say that when I had the idea for using bay leaves as a column, it was because someone sent me a list of “facts” that they were good for. In doing my research on ‘Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia’, I found some of those facts were true and others weren’t mentioned at all. For many years I have used bay leaves in my cabinets, placed one or two in my flour (usually in the plastic bag in which I store the flour), in and under baking mixes, oatmeal, cornmeal, rice, dried chilies, popcorn…and the list is long. I even keep a small container with three or four leaves sitting on the shelf where I keep cake mixes.
One of the first sentences that was at the beginning of some of the information states: “A bay leaf is a fragrant leaf from a laurel tree that is used as an herb. Bay leaves can be used either fresh or dried. The dried leaves have a slightly stronger flavor,”
The article went on to tell how to plant and raise bay laurel and where to order the plants and when to plant, all very interesting, but not exactly what I was looking for.
Bay leaves are used in cooking for their flavor and fragrance and the dried ones need to be removed from the cooked food before serving as they do not soften during cooking and the stems or pieces of the leaves could cause a problem as they are difficult to swallow.
There are several different types of Bay Laurel (Laurus nobillis, Lauraceae), and it is used in soups and stews, especially ones made with beef or lamb, and also in patés, especially in Mediterranean and Latin American cooking.
The leaf of the California bay tree (Umbellularia Californica, Lauraceae), goes by several different names, including California laurel, Oregon myrtle and also pepperwood and is very like the Mediterranean bay laurel but with a stronger flavor.
Indian bay leaf or malabathrum (Cinnamomum tamala, Lauraceae) is different in that he leaves are shaped differently and the cooking use is different as they have a smell and taste similar to cassia bark, but milder.
Indonesian bay leaf or Indonesian laurel (salamleaf, Syzygium polanthum, Myrtaceae) is usually not found outside Indonesia, and is usually applied to meat and occasionally to vegetable.
There are also West Indian bay leaf and Mexican bay leaf, the first is used to produce the cologne called bay rum, and the article did not give any uses for Mexican bay leaf.
Bay leaves are used in various types of cooking. Frequently the recipe will call for dried bay leaves and the results of using fresh versus dried are not very different. The fresh leaves are more expensive and do not keep as well as the dried ones. (I’ve never seen fresh bay leaves in the produce aisle in any store I’ve ever traded with).
The leaves are not usually eaten, but are simmered while cooking broths or stews and then removed before serving. Another suggestion that was made is to place some of the dried leaves in the cavity of a chicken before roasting and they can also be used in cooking rice.
The dried leaves are found in the spice aisle in small jars or sometimes on the rack with the spices that are packed in cellophane, these are usually smaller containers and you might want to try it that way to save a little money. The dried bay leaves should be stored in a cool, dry dark spice cabinet in a sealed container. I keep mine in a small jar in the fridge.
Following is the list of “facts” I mentioned earlier in this column. Now, please bear in mind, I haven’t tried drinking tea made from bay leaves and have no clue as to which, if any, of these things work. I’m only sure they help keep the weevils out of my cabinet!
The benefits of bay leaf are: “It helps regulate bowel movement by drinking hot bay tea. It lowers blood sugar and bay leaf is also an antioxidant. It allows the body to produce insulin by eating it or drinking bay tea for a month. It eliminates bad cholesterol and relieves the body of triglycerides. It is very useful in treating colds, flu and severe cough as it is a rich source of vitamin “C”, you can boil the leaves and inhale the steam to get rid of phlegm and reduce the severity of a cough.
Bay leaf protects the heart from seizures and strokes as it contains cardiovascular protective compounds. Bay leaf is rich in acids such as caffeic acid, quercetin, eigonol and bartolinide, substances that prevent the formation of cancer cells in the body. Bay leaf eliminates insomnia, if taken before bed, helps you relax and sleep peacefully
Drinking a cup of boiled bay leaves twice a day breaks kidney stones and cures infections.
Now, you can see why I put the word “facts” in quotes. My guess is that all of this happens if you drink a tea made from the boiled leaves, but I am not going to try it. This reminds me of an old wives tale, and I will continue using the ones I have in my house when I make beef or venison stew or am working on a big pot of beef vegetable soup!
Vegetable Beef Soup
3 to 4 pounds shank or neck soup bones (w/some meat on if possible)
3 ribs celery
1 onion
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole black pepper corns
4 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
1 chopped onion
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 can diced tomatoes
Rinse soup meat and place in large pot, and cover with water. Cut 3 celery ribs into 3 or 4 pieces each and place in pot, do the same with the onion. Add the bay leaf and place over medium heat until boiling. Turn heat on low and cook until meat readily falls off the bones. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Strain into a bowl, pick the meat (if any) off the bones and add back to the broth. (At this point, broth can be placed in fridge over night to allow fat to harden so you can remove it.) If you want to make the soup immediately, skim off as much fat as you can, add the potatoes, onions and celery. Cook until potatoes are nearly done and add the package of mixed vegetables and cook until all the vegetables are done. Serve with corn bread, crackers or crusty bread (French bread sliced thick).
Caldo de Res
2½ pounds beef shank, slice 1-inch thick, bone in
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1½ cups beef stock
1 can whole tomatoes, mashed or chopped into smaller pieces
4 ears fresh corn
2 zucchini
6 carrots, or 12 to 14 baby carrots
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 small head cabbage
1 lime cut into wedges
Sliced jalapeños, for garnish if desired
Cut each piece of beef shank into three or four pieces, being sure to leave some meat on the piece with the bone. Sauté the beef chunks with the chopped onion, salt and pepper until browned. When beef is browned, add the broth and the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about an hour, or until the beef is tender.
While this is cooking, wash the vegetables, cut each ear of corn into four or five pieces, cut the potatoes into quarters (or smaller if desired), cut the carrots into equivalent sizes, if using baby carrots, leave them whole. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, and then cut into 1-inch chunks. Add to the beef mixture, cover with water and bring mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut the cabbage into 8 wedges, leaving the core intact. Place the cabbage into the mixture and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with a squeeze of lime, some cilantro and chopped onions if desired. Serve with hot corn or flour tortillas.