Herbs add distinctive flavors and serve as attractive garnishes. These small additions to food can make an enormous difference in how appealing and satisfying a meal can be. Many top chefs grow their own herb gardens from which they can pick herbs at the peak of their freshness and quality.
Every country has it’s “signature” herbs which are used extensively in their local cuisine, which give that cuisine a style, aroma, and taste uniquely identified with that country. For example basil is used in many Italian dishes, and coriander and curry are often used in Indian dishes.
Here are a few recipes which are example of effective use of herbs. For more information on buying, growing, and using herbs of all types, see The Herb Handbook (shown in the photo on the right).
Known in some English-speaking countries as Saint Joseph’s Wort, basil is an aromatic herb that is very versatile and widely-used. It is considered to be a type of mint. Basil is not a single type of herb, but rather a family of related herbs. In Mediterranean regions, the predominant type of basil is known as “sweet basil” and it is typically combined with tomato puree or tomato sauce. A popular use of Basil is for making the classic Pesto sauce, which is used on pasta, fish, meat, pizza, and other similar dishes. Pesto is not only versatile, it’s easy to make.
- 4 1/2 oz pine nuts
- 4 1/2 oz parmesan cheese, cut into small chunks
- 1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 6 3/4 extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black peppers
- queeze of lemon juice
- Toast the pine nuts by placing them in a dry frying pan on a medium heat until they begin to brown.
- Put the cheese, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and basil in a food processor and blend into a smooth mixture. This should not take very long; a few seconds at most.
- Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
Pesto will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If you need to store it longer, it can be frozen. A convenient way to portion out pesto when freezing is to use plastic ice cube trays. After the cubes freeze, seal them into a plastic zip-lock freezer bag, or in a plastic container with a lid.
This is a thin sauce made from chopped mint, vinegar and sugar. It is traditionally served in England as an accompaniment to roast lamb.
Mint Sauce Ingredients
- 1oz fresh mint (chopped)
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tbsp hot water
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
This recipe is probably the simplest of all in this collection. Just put all the ingredients in a bowl together and leave to steep for about a half-hour. This will let the mint essence seep out and blend with the other ingredients. That’s it!
It’s not really necessary, but you can put the sauce into a blender, and blend for a few seconds, either before or after you allow it to steep. This will chop the mint to a finer consistency.
Parsley is a very versatile herb. It can be used as a garnish (which can be, but is seldom eaten), or as a separate vegetable. Added to food, it adds a distinctive, but subtle, flavor. The two main varieties of parsley ar curly leaf and flatleaf. Either can be used for the same purpose. Flatleaf parsley has a slightly stronger flavor, so it is usually preferred in Mediterranean cooking. A great (and easy) dish which uses parsley is Tabbouleh. This can be used as a salad, or as a side dish with meat or fish.
- 1oz bulgar wheat or packet of couscous
- 2 large, ripe vine tomatoes
- A large bunch of fresh flatleaf parsley, leaves only, washed, dried, finely chopped
- A small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
- 1 small red onion, peeled, finely chopped
- 2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt flakes
- Place the bulgar wheat or couscous into a mixing bowl and cover with 2 oz of boiling water. If the couscous packet includes different preparation instructions, you may choose to use those instead.
- Mix and cover (cling film works well for this).
- Set the mixture aside for about 20 minutes, or until the water has been completely absorbed by the bulgar wheat. If the result seems too dry, add a teaspoon or so more water, mix, cover, and let stand a few more minutes. When the bulgar wheat has absorbed all of the water, remove cling film and fluff it up with a fork until the grains are separated.
- Skin the tomatoes. An easy way to do this is to put them in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and peel. Discard the seeds. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place in a serving bowl.
- Add the mint, onion, and parsley to the tomatoes and mix well.
- Add the prepared bulgar wheat to the tomato mixture.
- Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil. Add the salt flakes to taste. Use a spoon to mix ingredients until they are well-coated with the liquid.
This is delicious served with hot bread.