When I was younger I was quite cautious when using herbs; a little bit of parsley in the cheese sauce, some oregano in the bolognaise, a sprinkle of rosemary on the roast lamb.
These days, having travelled a bit and read a lot of cookbooks and food magazines, I am much more liberal in my use of the flavourful green leaves known collectively as herbs.
I don't think I really have a single favourite but I do have a list of herbs that I don't like to be without, although I sometimes do have to go without because if they're not growing in the garden it's bad luck, I can't exactly pop down to the shops and get them....and once you've had herbs fresh from the garden it is very hard to go back to bought ones because the flavour just isn't the same, not to mention the cost of them.
I have finally learnt how to grow thyme in this climate and am thrilled about that because it's right up there amongst my favourite, most often used herbs. I have planted it at the base of fruit trees in the orchard and it is thriving....in both full sun and part shade. Previously I have tried it in pots on the verandah but it always carked it in summer. It's now been growing successfully in the orchard for three years. Thyme is great added to stews and soups. I like to bake oiled baby carrots sprinkled with salt and thyme, and combined with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil it makes a delicious marinade for pork chops (right)
Flat leaf parsley grows really well here and, happily for me, it self seeds all over the place. I usually manage to keep a few plants growing in a shady spot through the summer but in winter I literally have to pull it out of the garden beds or it would take over. Parsley seems happy to grow in almost solid shade or full sun (not in summer).
|Mint growning in a large pot|
|Mint growing under the fig tree|
|Holy basil growing in a pot|
Parsley, basil and mint are a great combination in Mediterranean style salads and ratatouille and you can be generous when using them.
|Laksa Leaf mint under |
the quince tree
|Tiny, late planted |
in the shade house
Mint, holy basil and coriander are essentials in south east Asian cuisine and are usually served fresh in a bowl as a side dish for people to add whatever they like to their meal. And that brings me to the recipe that inspired this blog!
Last week I had defrosted a chicken for dinner. I didn't really know what I would do with it, I was just thinking along the lines of something Asian, so I poached it in a 'master stock' and let it cool. After some brain wracking I remembered the fabulous crispy pancakes we had in Vietnam so I looked up a recipe for them and from there developed what I now dub, Vietnamese Tacos! This is a fun meal where everyone can fill their own pancake at the table, just as you do with the original, Mexican version. Great for kids and, for those to whom it matters, it's gluten and dairy free to boot!
Master stock poached chicken or pork
grated or julienned carrot
Finely sliced capsicum
finely sliced cucumber
halved cherry tomatoes
Fresh herbs (coriander, mint, Vietnamese mint, holy basil) washed (and picked off the stalks if you want to)
340g rice flour
1 tsp ground turmeric
560 ml coconut milk
560 ml water
½ cup chopped spring onion
peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 tsp salt
To make the pancakes, place flour and tumeric in a large bowl. Add coconut milk and water and mix well to form a thin pancake batter. Add spring onions and allow to rest for 15 minutes.Heat about 1 tbsp of oil in a 20- 25 cm frying pan and ladle in enough batter to cover pan. Fry until crispy on one side. Don't flip. Slide out and let everyone fill their own pancake with cooked chicken or pork, salad and fresh herbs. Serve with Nuoc Cham
60ml (1/4 cup) fish sauce
60ml (1/4 cup) fresh lime juice1 1/2 tbs water
1 tbs caster sugar
1 long fresh red chilli, halved, deseeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
There are heaps of other wonderful herbs of course but these ones are my mainstays. So, if you're not already growing some, I encourage you to have a go at your favourites and use them with abandon!