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Culture: The herb garden by Maria Broadbent




Fresh kitchen herbs isolated on white background (3647037)
Fresh kitchen herbs isolated on white background (3647037)

I am often asked how we get so much flavour into our dishes. The answer is simple – we use an abundance of herbs, both fresh and dried, plus an array of spices from around the world.

In this article I will attempt to navigate you through the most versatile and valuable ingredients to have in your cupboards or garden. I say garden, this can be a pot on the windowsill, it’s just that certain herbs are simply not worth using in their dried version. Herbs are better fresh but here are a few that also work well dried with some ideas on what to stick them in!

5 dried herb store cupboard staples for me are:

Oregano – fabulous for anything Italian or Greek or with tomato based dishes

Thyme – classic with chicken, tomatoes, also good with sweet or savoury dishes using honey

Sage – with pork as either sage and onion stuffing or in the Italian dish Saltimbocca

Dill – Tzatziki (Greek yoghurt dip), fish and smoked fish

Rosemary – Potatoes, lamb, earthy stews either meat or vegetable based.

5 most versatile fresh herbs:

Coriander – curries, tagines and salsas

Parsley – parsley sauce for fish, in an omelette or other egg dishes and as cheffy sprinkles!

Basil – tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella, bruschetta and pizza

Chives – for any dish where a hint of onion is required, chives are a subtle alternative

Mint – Lamb, courgettes, mojitos

I grew up in a home where everything was prepared with fresh ingredients, we would be sent outside in the rain to pick the sage for the stuffing on a wet Sunday morning. The upside of this was that walking back in to a warm house the smell of the pork, and more importantly the crackling, would smack you right in the nostrils. Even if you use a packet mix, the addition of a few chopped fresh herbs can make a big difference.

Herbs have long been held as not only a valuable cooking aide but also for their medicinal and beauty applications. Mint certainly can soothe if you are feeling a little nauseous and chamomile is meant to be great for calming and inducing sleep. I was introduced to a cup of chamomile tea with fresh lemon and honey before bed in Italy by a Maltese family. Even if the effect is placebo, who cares?

Herbs if you buy them in a supermarket are not cheap, so to ensure you get the most out of them, here are ways to maximise your yield.

Always use a very sharp knife to chop them otherwise they bruise and discolour easily. Tear basil, don’t cut. If you have too much parsley or coriander you can chop it and loose freeze it – then add a spoonful to a sauce or stew. For mint, I would freeze the leaves in ice cubes for Pimms or mojitos. My mum makes mint into homemade mint sauce – by preserving it in the vinegar it keeps, add a little sugar and some water to manage the acidity. Rosemary can be hung up and dried as can thyme.

On the subject of hanging up to dry, though I never think of it as a herb as its more of a tree, are bay leaves. These are great and can be used to infuse milk for sauces and can be chucked in to any stew.

Saltimbocca

225g pork tenderloin – ask the butcher to cut it into six slices (they may even flatten It for you If you ask nicely!)

6 slices parma ham

6 large fresh sage leaves

170ml marsala

1½ tablespoons Marsala

Salt and pepper

Flatten the medallions (use your fist or a rolling pin), season with salt and pepper. Put a piece of the ham, folded to fit on the pork, then a sage leaf and secure the three things together with a cocktail stick. Pop the marsala in a pan on a low heat whilst gently frying the pork in the olive oil for 2 minutes each side – sage leaf side first. Then pour over the warmed Marsala and cook for 2 more minutes until sauce goes syrupy. Serve.

Mojito

3 heaped tablespoons demerara sugar

1 lime chopped into about 12 pieces

50ml aged Havana rum

Fresh mint – at least 10 leaves

Ice or crushed ice

In a sturdy tumbler muddle (this means squish the hell out of) the sugar and lime, but not the mint. Put the mint in your hand and clap - this releases the oils without turning the leaves to mush. Add the mint and the rum, give it a good stir. Add the ice or crushed ice and top up with soda – stir again. You can garnish with a mint sprig or a lime circle or you can just drink it!

Tzatziki

250g Greek Yoghurt (the proper stuff – not Greek style)

3 tablespoons fresh dill

½ cucumber

A pinch of salt – to your taste

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic

A drizzle of good quality olive oil (preferably Greek but certainly not essential)

Grate the cucumber and squeeze out any excess liquid. Chop the dill and the garlic – add these with all the other ingredients to the yoghurt. Mix well, check seasoning and you are good to go. This will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Delicious with salads, vegetarian and meat dishes. Substitute yoghurt with vegan yoghurt (Coconut Collaborative one works well) for a vegan friendly version.

Garlic and rosemary potatoes

New potatoes

Chopped rosemary - dried or fresh

Chopped garlic

Oil

Salt and Pepper

Oven to be heated to between 180 and 200 depending on the ferocity of your oven – you want the potatoes to roast and go crispy. I am going to scare you by not giving quantities as this is very much down to your preferred taste. The method however is easy – cut the potatoes into even sized pieces, put in a single layer in a metal baking tray and the other ingredients and massage in to potatoes – this ensures an even coverage. Put them in the oven for around 35 minutes, keep an eye on them and give them a poke around after 15 minutes.

Griddled/barbecue courgettes

4 Courgettes

3 sprigs fresh mint – remove stems and chop

1 fresh red chilli

2 cloves garlic - chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt

Cut courgettes lengthways about 5mm thick – oil lightly and lay on a hot griddle, BBQ (or frying pan – but ridged pans are better)

Once they are cooked to your preferred softness – try to leave some bite in them, lay on a plate and sprinkle with all the remaining ingredients. Serve warm or I think better still at room temperature. These are yummy with griddled lamb or halloumi (vegan halloumi style cheese works too)



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