As med students we are rarely free, so we decided to take advantage of the bank holiday and nice weather and have a picnic together. Sitting there, by the canal, in the 30-something °C heat, surrounded by all the shrubbery, I could not help but soak in the calm, serene ambiance that enveloped me. My mind began to ponder possible new blog post ideas and then I realised that the inspiration was in fact around me. Right now everything that encircled me gave me a chance to fully appreciate the breathtaking beauty of nature. Words like freshness and green sprung into my thoughts which led me to the often ignored subject of culinary herbs.
During the day…
The view at night. 2 words. Just breathtaking.
Here is a short list of herbs I regularly use at home, but bare in mind that it is not extensive and so feel free to add a few more if you desire lol 😉 😉
Perennials (ie. plants that live for 2 yrs+)
From its use in the world-acclaimed rice and peas dish of Jamaica to the classic French flavouring combo-Herbes de Provence, this herb is extremely versatile and is used in a plethora of cuisines. Typically, the small grey-green leaves of the plant are used fresh or dried and its flavour is minty, peppery, with a slightly bitter note. It exudes a rather floral and slightly lemon aroma. This herb complements many things including poultry, meat, eggs and mushrooms. It also complements tomato soups, herb crusted roast potatoes and compound butters which are normally served with a tender, juicy steak. You have to also try it with your marinades particularly when leaving meats overnight, because somehow its flavour is enhanced by other herbs and spices. I even used it in my perfect roast chicken recipe and that was the best I’ve made so far (hand on heart). Let’s not forget all you out there with a sweet tooth though. Some possible dishes include a lemon and thyme cake and even an apple and thyme tart tartin (the lemony flavour is put to good use in these kinds of desserts).
- Bay leaf
On the most part this herb is used in its dry form because one of its advantages is unlike other herbs, its flavour is not lost during the process of drying. Additionally, its flavour intensifies the longer its being cooked and so would be ideal for slow cooked meals including stews, casseroles and when braising chicken, fish or meat and even game. This spicy, bittersweet, sharp herb with its floral, pine-like fragrance is very often used in the Mediterranean for pickling and marinating meat and/or poultry, whilst in Turkey you’d find it used in their kebabs. In Morocco you’ll find it used in their flavoursome tagines (got to love a tagine-lovely balance of sweet, spicy and savoury). As you know I love Indian cuisine, so I’d be a fool not to include one of the backbones of alot of their curries-garam masala. Despite regional differences, a typical garam masala has bay leaves among other ingredients like cinnamon and cloves but it’s the way in which it is used that differs depending on the recipe. Bay leaf can also be infused with milk before being incorporated in rice pudding, custard and other milk based desserts. I’d probably have to try it in a panna cotta one of these days because I have a feeling that it’d go so well with a raspberry couli and make for an epic dish!
If you have never used this pungent herb with lamb, you have no idea what you are missing! When you flavour a leg/rack of lamb with a few sprigs of fresh mint, more specifically spearmint, it just propels the meat to another level. Its warm, aromatic flavour is followed by a cooling after note that clears the palate. You’d often find it in smoothies, pesto, sorbets, ice cream and chocolate/strawberry desserts. Mint is great in tzatziki to eat with your Souvlakia or made into a sauce to serve with salmon or sea bass. Lets not forget to mention one of the classic British dishes that we as a nation love to eat: fish and chips with mint flavoured mushy peas. Scrumptious! However, I must warn you to be careful with the amount used because it can overpower everything in a dish but when used cautiously makes for a harmonious meal.
It too it used in Herbes de Provence along with herbs such as basil and rosemary and makes for a delicious addition to Southern French vegetable stews or grilled meats. This is aided by its sweet, bold gutsy flavours, peppery notes and also its camphoraceous and anise-like scent. This herb dries with ease due to it containing a high concentration of oil but it must be noted that it loses its intensity over time so try to replace it every so often. On the other hand, dried oregano tends to supersede fresh oregano in terms of its potency so its worth it. This robust herb provides a perfect finishing touch to lamb, mutton, pasta, pizza, herb butters, cheese dishes, stuffing and even eggs. Sprinkle a couple leaves in your omelette or add a taste of Tuscany to your roasted vegetables (check out this awesome recipe at: http://uprootfromoregon.com/2015/01/12/roasted-vegetable-farro-salad-with-pomegranate-and-pistachio/) and you’ll be in for a treat. Try it in a fresh green salad, with a crumbs of feta cheese, tomatoes and a red wine vinaigrette. Bon appétit!!!
Biennials (ie. plants that live for at most 2 yrs)
I challenge you to go to the restaurant of your choice and I am sure you’d find at least one dish with parsley as a garnish! It seems that the gastronomy world has gone parsley mad, but for good reason. This is because it has a wonderful habit of adding depth, enhancing savoury dishes and looks so aesthetically pleasing on the plate. When I think about it, this is probably one of my most used herbs, it may be due to the fact that I enjoy its mild, subtle yet peppery and bitter taste or because it goes so well with chicken and fish. I do tend to cook these more often then other meats so that could be an attributing factor. It is also great with baked potatoes, risotto, pasta, eggs as well as tomatoes. A nice plate of pan fried trout with parsley, garlic and lemon would make for a tasty brunch especially as the Summer heat approaches. I have also tried couscous with apricots and parsley and teamed it with lamb. Very enjoyable 🙂
Annuals (ie. plants that live up to 1yr)
One of the focal herbs used in Vietnamese and Thai cooking is Thai basil, with its spicy anise/clove-like flavour or you can use other milder varieties including sweet basil, which is the type I use most regularly. One tip is to incorporate it into a dish at the later stages of the cooking process because its delicacy can be so easily ruined. It makes for a perfect accompaniment with a variety of foods such as tomatoes, soups, salads, stews, dips, rice/egg dishes and of course pesto. Try some with roasted aubergines and courguettes in this tantalising recipe at: http://www.sanitarium.com.au/recipes/eggplant-courgette-basil-ricotta-parmigiana. Another possible dish idea that could not be more fitting is a Thai basil chicken curry infused with coconut milk which I’d serve with Jasmine rice. This type of curry can be adapted to suit, in an infinite amount to ways and involves the amalgamation of the sweetness of the basil, acidity of lime juice and heat provided from the ginger and chilli (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/basil_chicken_in_coconut_curry_sauce/).
This herb has a chameleon-like quality because its multifaceted flavour profile enables it to take on different tastes depending on where and how its used. Very few other herbs can attest to that same versatility. The seeds can be utilised whole or crushed to form a fresh, spicy and citrus-like powder suitable for a whole host of dishes which you’d mostly likely find in Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. You can also use fresh coriander leaves with grilled/barbecued game, ham, pork and fish. Why not make chicken enchiladas with salsa verde or Middle Eastern meatballs that can be served with yoghurt and pita bread? Coriander (or cilantro) also amplifies apples with its lemon-like characteristics and makes stuff like cookies that much more comforting by adding depth. You could even add a couple teaspoons of ground coriander to your crumble mixture along with cinnamon and use in an apple crumble, (oh and don’t forget to serve with a hot serving of custard)!
Hopefully from reading this post you cannot deny that herbs are awfully important, with varying degrees of potency and distinct flavours they can make or completely obliterate a dish. That is why chefs and cooks around the globe have spent countless hours figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We too, can experiment with these humble yet underestimated ingredients, and it doesn’t have to be restricted to just savoury dishes either.
Thanks for stopping by x