When it comes to fresh herbs, shoppers are really spoilt for choice. There are a host of herbs to choose from, each with their own individual flavour, aroma and appearance. They can all make a real difference to so many different dishes and the great news is that you don’t need to be a chef to make the most of this kitchen essential.
Widely recognised as one of the country’s foremost experts on herbs and creator of Jamie Oliver’s herb garden, Jekka McVicar is calling on the nation to embrace fresh herbs and to make the most of this versatile ingredient at home. Jekka has teamed up with the UK’s largest grower of fresh herbs – The Fresh Herb Company – to help inspire people to get cooking with fresh herbs.
Jekka McVicar said: “The key benefit of cooking with fresh herbs is their amazing ability to enhance dishes. They can transform a cheap cut of meat, stretch a sauce for pasta and add a new dimension to anything from vegetables to eggs. Herbs add aroma, texture and colour to cooking and they offer a healthy way to season food. I want people to feel confident and inspired to use fresh herbs at home as part of their everyday cooking – they’re not just for restaurant meals or special occasions! Keeping a few pots of herbs at home on your kitchen windowsill provides you with easy, convenient ways to add flavour to food which offers great value, plus they look and smell great!
In my guide I’ve suggested ways to use the most widely available fresh herbs as a starting point, but the possibilities are endless. So pick up some living herbs and get experimenting – happy cooking!”
Basil’s fabulous fragrance and peppery, spicy flavour complements so many foods, both savoury and sweet. It is a member of the mint family, which when used in cooking helps stimulate digestion and is a beneficial antioxidant. I use it liberally in dishes from pasta and custards, to teas, salads and sauces. It’s also great with chocolate. Tear basil rather than cutting with a knife as this can make it discolour. Basil is a good friend to have in the kitchen because it also repels flies!
Chives are a member of the onion family and have a mild onion flavour which combines well with a huge range of dishes, making it practically indispensable in the kitchen. It is one of the most ancient herbs with records of its existence and use dating back to 3,000 BC. I like to use freshly snipped chives in omelettes, scrambled eggs, salads and add to soured cream as a filling for jacket potatoes. Its leaves are also good sprinkled on soup or on grilled meat. Add chives towards the end of cooking because if they are cooked for too long they lose their delicious onion flavour and become bitter.
Coriander is a love or hate it herb but I adore it. It was brought to Northern Europe by the Romans, who combining it with cumin and vinegar, rubbed it into meat as a preservative. It partners really well with spices, garlic, ginger and chilli. Many people just use the leaves but the stalks are full of flavour. You can make a great base for curries by combining coriander stalks, chilli, onion and garlic and blending with a hand processor.
Parsley is one of the most widely used herbs throughout the world and has been popular since records began. It’s much more than a garnish and it’s fresh, grassy flavour can really lift and enhance food, particularly more subtle flavoured dishes. It’s great with mushrooms, sauces and soups. As with coriander, don’t discard the stems as they are packed full of flavour.
Mint’s cool and clean flavour can do much for sweet and savoury dishes alike, whether mixed in with a fruit salad, with couscous or as a classic mint sauce. Freshly picked mint leaves make a simple, refreshing mint tea and are a stunning way to finish cakes. It is also perfect with new potatoes and really brings out their flavour. It also has a rich history, one of my favourite stories is that the ancient Greeks believed that a wreath of mint placed near your head could exorcise an impending hangover!
Rosemary is one of the most versatile and useful herbs in the kitchen, it is also associated with love, friendship and remembrance. It’s highly aromatic and its essential oils not only flavour food but help tenderise meat. Marinating lamb with chopped rosemary or adding sprigs when roasting vegetables are just a couple of the many ways to use a pot of fresh rosemary. It’s also great in bread.
Thyme is a strong, robust flavoured herb with small leaves and a favourite with many chefs. It radiates warmth and sunlight and when used in cooking fills the kitchen with a mouth-watering aroma. Use the leaves and young stems of living thyme to add flavour to a host of dishes from vegetables such as carrots through to meat and poultry. Try rolling it into pastry, pizza or bread dough to add another dimension to your meal.
Sage’s deep flavour is well suited to more ‘substantial’ winter dishes, so it’s perfect for stews, slow cook dishes and stuffings of course! However one of my favourite ways to enjoy it is fresh pasta tossed in a sage butter. You can also fry the leaves to make a deliciously different garnish.
Five top tips on how to look after your pots of fresh herbs once you get them home:
- Let there be light – fresh living herbs thrive in bright, draught free places. A kitchen windowsill is ideal.
- Water – little and often. Water when the soil is dry to touch, a teaspoon is usually enough! Most people make the mistake of overwatering their herbs.
- Drainage – don’t let them stand in water too long. Ensure the pot holder for your living herb has drainage holes in the base, or simply keep on a saucer.
- Keep out of the fridge – cold temperatures damage fresh living herbs.
- Snip or pick from the top to allow light to get to lower leaves.
The Fresh Herb Company grows fresh herbs for major supermarkets including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. All of its pots of herbs are grown in Britain all year round.
For further advice on how to use fresh living herbs and how to look after your pots of herbs at home, see http://www.freshlivingherbs.co.uk or talk to them on Twitter @freshherbco and you can see their recipes at pinterest.com/thefreshherbco.