Friday, 27 April 2012

Herbs to lift, repair and revitalise

Herbs seem to be scary and foreign to a lot of people I talk to.  Which ones go with what foods?  Dried?  Fresh?  How much complements a dish but doesn't over power it?

I used to be a bit like that too!  And hey I am still no herb connoisseur, that is for sure, but since growing a herb garden of my own, I am a little more adventurous and am finding out what works (and doesn't) and enjoying the satisfaction of stepping outside, picking a few sprigs of this and that, and finishing off a dish with the freshest flavours, homegrown!

The picture below is (not one of my finest shots) our herb garden.  Well, 90% herbs!  You can see the bay tree furthest away, then vietnamese mint, parsley, thyme, sage, oregano, mint, basil, a minature lime tree and aloe vera in the bottom right corner.  I am no green thumb but this little patch seems to just work, much to my delight.  A few others have come and gone but these are the stayers (possibly because they are the hardiest?!).   My two little boys often pick off a leaf and sniff it before commenting on the smell or give it a little taste!  Nice to know they won't think herbs come dried in a packet or out of a tube!
Oh, and I also have two big rosemary bushes in another part of the garden which are conveniently near the BBQ and Weber - easy to reach over, snap off a few sprigs and push them through a leg of lamb or in a dish of baked potatoes with some garlic cloves and olive oil.

Having a peppermint tea for me now is just picking off a small handful of mint leaves, throwing them in a mug and pouring boiling water over them.  Even great for a quick breath freshener, walk past your mint, pick off a few leaves and chew them!
Oregano and basil are finely cut and stirred through my bolognaise sauce just before serving.
Sage is thrown into hot butter, swirled around for 30 seconds then poured onto gnocchi or grilled chicken breasts for an instant lift.
Fresh ginger and sugar are pulverised in the Thermomix, strained, then added to mineral water with mint leaves for a refreshing drink (yep, a shot of vanilla vodka would be a great addition, so I've heard ( ;).

(Now these aren't herbs but since they are in the herb garden, I'll just add that our lime tree produces the sweetest little limes, complementing many a thai dish (or Dan's Coronas!) and the Aloe is snapped off, squeezed and applied to the skin for quick healing (especially handy with two adventurous boys running around!)).

I probably need to put a little disclaimer in here - because once you get intrigued by herbs like I have and start doing your own research on the medicinal and nutritional benefits of each one, you too will want to adorn your garden with all sorts of herb plants!  And those of you who don't have a garden but more a courtyard or even balcony, don't fear, herbs grow brilliantly in pots.
The trick is to buy the herbs you think you will use.
If you cook lots of Italian dishes such as pastas, meat dishes and pizzas, grow basil, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and parsley.
If you also cook lots of Asian dishes, add Vietnamese mint (awesome in rice paper rolls), coriander and sweet basil.

To buy a bunch of herbs costs around $2-3 dollars which is crazy when it is just so easy to grow them yourself whilst making your outdoor space look and smell fantastic! It is also wasteful when more often than not you only needed a tablespoon or two of the herb and the rest goes limp after a few days in the crisper.

I've found I've not needed to add as much salt/stock concentrate to dishes when I can add a bunch of herbs instead. 

And if you still need convincing to head out to your local nursery this weekend and pick up a few punnets of herb seedlings, check out the following reputable sites for all sorts of interesting nutritional and medicinal benefits of herbs.  Everything from antioxidants, to digestive assistance, to insect repellent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities, herbs are such an interesting bunch, and obviously herbs probably lesser known to us have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years.

Now, looking at the pros and cons of dried vs fresh herbs, obviously for convenience, dried herbs are most common in Australian kitchens.  However I feel this, in part, has lead to them being used so little these days, as the dried up greeny/grey particles you shake into your frittata or casserole really gives little excitement to the dish.  However I'm not totally bagging them out!  Whilst the softer leaved herbs such as basil and parsley do loose a lot of their flavour once dried, the harder woody stemmed herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme actually hold their flavour much better and in a longer cooking dish, dried would be perfectly fine to use.
Lets stop right here for a minute.  I want you to get up, go to the pantry, pull out your herb jars and look at the expiry dates.  OK, I'll let you in on a little secret.  Not too long ago I was cleaning out my pantry and did happen to come across a couple of herb jars with an expiry date older than my eldest son!  GASP.  I think we may have all come across one of those at one point or another!!! (Heidi what date did we find in your herb collection again??!!!!Oooo I'm being cheeky now!)
But seriously, herbs that are any more than one year old have only one home, the bin!  A bit of salt and pepper would do a better job by that stage ( :

Here are some short order recipes to incorporate herbs into your home!  Enjoy....

  • For a quick dip - into a block of cream cheese stir through a handful of finely chopped herbs of your choice (eg parsley, basil, mint, thyme) with 1 clove crushed garlic, salt and pepper to taste (add finely sliced red chilli if desired).  Add the zest of a lemon into this mixture and it could also be used as a stuffing just under the skin of a chicken before roasting it.   
  • To freshen up a green salad - add a handful of chopped herbs such as parsley, mint and coriander.
  • As a simple topping for grilled chicken/vegetables or even pasta on a night when you just cant be bothered!! - melt 30-50g butter in a saucepan until bubbling.  Toss in a few sprigs of sage leaves, sliced.  Shake the pan until leaves are fully coated in the butter.  After about 30 seconds, tip straight onto cooked meat/vegetables.  A clove of thinly sliced garlic and/or finely sliced chilli could also be added.
  • Add flavour to meatballs by adding finely chopped parsley, oregano and rosemary
  • A delicious and healthy start to the day - a herbed omelette.  Whisk up a couple of eggs.  Throw in a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped assorted herbs such as basil, chives and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour into shallow lightly greased small frypan.  Fill with any other ingredients you like such as thinly sliced mushrooms, crumbled low fat feta cheese and spinach leaves to one half of the omelette.  Gently flip the other half over, covering the fillings.  Allow to cook for a further couple of minutes before serving. 


  1. are cheeky. Yes they were definitely out of date by a few years (maybe even more than that). I still admire mum's Pavlova egg that is used by late 90's that we pull out and have a giggle over... must be in the family. Looking forward to having a helping hand from the Makris gang when setting up our vegie patch which will hopefully be full of lovely fresh herbs. Loe the post xo

  2. I wonder if that Pav egg is like a wine that improves over time??!! I'm not suggesting you try it by the way!! Would love to be a part of your vegie/herb planning ( :