The addition of herbs causes many cuisines around the world to have a distinctive flavour and character. The range of herbs available today just continues to expand, driven by consumer demand. Now home cooks have access to previously unavailable seasonings and edible plants.
You will also find that you can cut down on the amount of salt you use when cooking. The herbs give the dishes a lovely flavour.
One golden rule is to avoid allowing one flavour to dominate the others. Herb and spice mixes such as garam masala are a delicate balancing act of flavours. Even if you like a bit of heat, too much fresh chilli can overwhelm the more subtle herbs and spices accompanying it. Similarly, very pungent herbs, such as fresh coriander, are not to everyone’s taste, so a lighter hand is recommended.
Remember, you can always add fresh herbs at the table. In Iranian and Vietnamese cooking, a bowl of fresh herbs is a standard appetiser or accompaniment. Similarly, the Lebanese offer a platter of fresh herbs and vegetables as part of a mezze table.
Chop herbs with a mezzaluna (see picture above), a sharp knife or scissors. You can use a food processor for large bunches, but don’t over-process them. Fine-leafed herbs can also be shredded by hand, but coarse herbs, such as rosemary, need fine chopping unless whole sprigs are appropriate for the recipe. Herbs such as basil, coriander and sage discolour if the are chopped too early before use.
As a general rule, when cooking with herbs, it’s best to add the soft-leafed ones, such as coriander, late in the cooking process to preserve their flavour. The coarser ones, such as rosemary, are ideal for dishes that require long, slow cooking. Dried herbs are usually more concentrated in flavour than fresh ones, so you will use less of them.
• Select vibrant leaves with no sigh of wilting or yellowing.
• Ideally, buy fresh herbs as and when you need them, they quickly deteriorate in flavour and appearance, particularly the soft-leafed varieties.
• Store fresh herbs for no more than 3 or 4 days. Loosely wrap unwashed bunches in a damp paper towel and store in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag in a cool place.
• Alternatively, stand the stems in a jug with a little water and loosely cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Store in the fridge, changing the water daily. Or store the herbs in plastic bags and place them in the vegetable crisper.
• Buy herbs that are sold in plastic boxes or cellophane bags – they keep well if store in the fridge.
• Freeze chopped herbs in a little water in ice-cube trays.
• Delicate herbs, such as basil, do not dry well, but more robust herbs, such as thyme and rosemary retain their flavour well and are a convenient alternative to fresh.
• Wash fresh herbs in a bowl of cold water, not running water which can bruise them. Pat dry with paper towel.
• Quality ingredients make great tasting oils that enhance dips, marinades, sauces and dressings. Drizzle them over a salad or use to flavour fish or lamb before cooking. Always choose herbs in season to ensure they are at their pungent best, and use robust, aromatic herbs for best results.
• The more robust the herb, the better the finished oil. Experiment with marjoram or oregano, chillies, garlic, chervil, coriander, chives or mint. Clean the leaves very carefully to remove all traces of dirt and pesticides.
• To make a clear oil, stand the oil and herbs for 3 – 4 days, then strain through a muslin cloth.
• Flavour oils with your favourite herbs. Use whole bulbs, leaves or sprigs for table worthy bottles, but between meals, store them in a cool, dark place to ensure the colour and flavour last.
• As with oils, wine vinegars vary greatly in price and quality, so buy the best that you can afford. Experiment with different types, such as rice vinegar and red and white wine vinegars. To release the flavour of robust leaves and whole garlic cloves, bruise them with the flat of a knife.
• Herb vinegars make excellent yet inexpensive gifts for any occasion. Choose a variety of bottle shapes and sizes. Add your favourite herb vinegar to oil for a quick and zesty salad dressing.
• Pickles fruits and vegetables are a great way to use up an abundant harvest, and many pickles rely on herbs for their flavour. Serve them as tasty accompaniments to main meals, or to add a gourmet touch to a cheese platter.
• Pickles must be bottled in clean, sterilised jars.
• Versatile herb butters can be enjoyed with everything from fresh bread to a char grilled steak. Choose herbs to match your favourite dishes – perhaps sage butter to accompany a barbecued chicken, or parsley and lemon butter with poached white fish. The possibilities are endless.
• Coriander and chilli
• Parsley and lemon
• blue cheese and herb
• Horseradish and mustard
• Ginger and chilli
• Featured in many cuisines, these delicious sauces can be used for dips, served on the side or incorporated into a variety of dishes. Enjoy them with pasta, fish, cold meat and even sandwiches, or try a herby yoghurt-based sauce to moderate a hot curry.
Thanks to Crossing Superspar