A GUIDE TO COOKING WITH HERBS FOR BEGINNERS

A GUIDE TO COOKING WITH HERBS FOR BEGINNERS

Once upon a time in a kitchen far, far away, I cooked under the belief that anything green you sprinkled on your food from the spice cupboard resulted in the same tasting plate of food each time. Wouldn’t life be simpler that way? I had no knowledge of the different ways herbs could be manipulated to improve the taste of my meals, nor did I care too much as I was mostly just concerned with how many calories I was avoiding back then.

I’m now ready to make up for lost time and to give herbs a chance with the help of Yvette Farrell, who is a horticulturist and who runs Harts Barn cookery school. She assures me using and more importantly understanding what different herbs do will improve my cooking boundlessly “by adding flavour and taste. They will turn a scrambled egg into a more appetising delicious meal with lots of flavour and add colour”. I don’t even like scrambled egg, but I’m willing to apply the same logic to my originally lacklustre curries, soups and pasta dishes.

Let’s start with the basics: what’s the deal with choosing between dried and fresh herbs? Yvette explains that “dried [herbs] can be used all year round and stored. They can have quite an intense flavour”, but that “fresh is best and can be used after cooking to intensify flavours”.

If fresh is best, does that mean I have to start becoming green-fingered? Do I need to clear the kitchen windowsill to make way for potted plants that I’m going to forget to water? Do I need to grow all these herbs myself?! Luckily, Yvette calms my nerves: “I am a great advocator of growing your own as the nutritional value and taste is so much greater if you can pick and use fresh. However this is not possible for everyone so if the only fresh you can use is from the supermarket then do so as they will still be flavoursome.” Phew.

Yvette then kindly breaks things down into five, simple, herby bunches, so that even I can understand and hopefully begin to include more herbs in my cooking without fear of spoiling a dish. Here’s a guide to using chives, flat leaf parsley, coriander, rosemary and thyme for beginners. Happy herbing!

Name:

Chives.

Chives are a close relative to the onion, but have a more delicate flavour.

How do you identify this herb?

Looks like a thick grass with a purple flower head.

How do you cook with it?

I find chives are best used fresh, chopped and sprinkle as a last minute addition to salads, scrambled egg, quiche (before serving). Use the flowers in salads or sprinkled over a meat dish. The flowers can also be added to Apple Cider vinegar in a bottle to create a chive vinegar.

What flavours compliment this herb?

Egg, cheese, artichokes and lemon.

How long does this herb keep for when fresh?

If planted, it can be used for a few months. If loose in a packet, keep in the fridge and use within a week. They can be frozen.

Name:

Flat leaf parsley.

Fresh and grassy in flavour. The flat leafed variety is more robust and aromatic.

How do you identify this herb?

Looks like a small green plant but not tight like curly parsley. Check your label.

How do you cook with it?

Use flat leaf parsley chopped into stews, tagines, quiche, Italian sauces, fish cakes, etc. To keep its fresh taste, sprinkle in at the last minute of cooking time.

What flavours compliment this herb?

Fish, tomatoes, lamb and lemon.

How long does this herb keep for when fresh?

If planted, it can be used for a few months. If loose in a packet, keep in the fridge and use within a week. They can be frozen.

Name:

Coriander (also called Cilantro in some cuisines).

Coriander has a zesty, aromatic flavour, similar to a blend of lemon and sage. Although some people think it tastes of soap…

How do you identify this herb?

Can be mistaken for flat leaf parsley as very similar in appearance.

How do you cook with it?

Best if planted in the garden as it can then be used through the whole of its life cycle: the root, the leaves, the flowers and the seeds. It can be used chopped into curries as used in Indian and Thai cuisine.

I love a simple sandwich of coriander leaves, lemon and mayonnaise. Coriander is very aromatic and can also add flavour to salads.

What flavours compliment this herb?

Lemon, chicken, fish, lamb, tofu, curries and salads.

How long does this herb keep for when fresh?

If planted, it can be used for a few months. If loose in a packet, keep in the fridge and use within a week. They can be frozen.

Name:

Rosemary.

Rosemary has a tea-like aroma and a piney flavour.

How do you identify this herb?

A hardy bush with upright stems with the aromatic leaves aligned along the stems. You can get a trailing variety for the garden.

How do you cook with it?

Remove leaves from woody stems if adding into cooking. Stems can be left and removed after cooking as an infusion of flavour. Stick a few stems into a bottle of olive or rapeseed oil to create a rosemary flavoured oil to cook with or to use as a salad dressing. Use rosemary sparingly as it is very aromatic.

What flavours compliment this herb?

Lamb, mushrooms and garlic.

How long does this herb keep for when fresh?

If planted, it can be used for the growing season but also all year round if the garden is sheltered. If loose in a packet, keep in the fridge and use within a week. The leaves can be frozen.

Name:

Thyme.

Thyme has a subtle, dry aroma and a slightly minty flavour.

How do you identify this herb?

A small leaved trailing bush. Can be green or variegated (different colours).

How do you cook with it?

Strip the leaves for using in stews or add to pastry to add a different flavour. Can add a whole stem to a stew for adding flavour but you need to remove the stems before serving.

What flavours compliment this herb?

Lemon, feta, beef, mushrooms and tomatoes.

How long does this herb keep for when fresh?

If planted, it can be used over a long season and if the weather is mild it can be used all the year round. If loose in a packet, keep in the fridge and use within a week. They can be frozen.

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