Tag Archives: parsley

Herbs galore – now what to do with them?!

Several weeks ago I planted some very small herb plants, and the combination of April showers and quite a bit of sunshine with mild to warm weather since then has led to them exploding. Most of them have now reached the stage where they can be used liberally in cooking, and it’s fantastically rewarding, I find, to have all these fresh flavours so readily available throughout the summer.

I’m determined to make the very best of what’s out there this year, and for that reason I’d like to use this post to ask about your tried and tested favourite recipes or tips for cooking with fresh herbs. Yes, I do have recipe books and (obviously) an internet connection, but over the years it’s been almost always the case that my true favourite recipes have come as a personal recommendation from friends, family or acquaintances. ;-)

The picture shows just what’s outside the french windows in the living room – at the top there’s coriander (l), oregano and tarragon (r), in the hanging pots there’s an aubretia (just for decoration – not planning on eating it!) and a nasturtium (now with a stonking orange flower), then at the bottom there’s a jungle of (l-r) rosemary, sage, Moroccan mint, thyme, lemon thyme and lavender. Upstairs on the roof terrace outside the landing window there’s more lavender, parsley, lemongrass, strawberry mint, Thai basil and some (still very small, grown by M from seed) chilli plants.

The herbs I seem to be harvesting most of at the moment are coriander (curries and Mexican food), thyme (anything Mediterranean), tarragon (great in salad dressing and with fish) and that old stalwart, parsley. There are a couple of others, though, for which I’d be particularly grateful for culinary tips…

Sage advice, anyone?

I adore sage and use it relatively frequently with pork, and it also combines well with olive oil, garlic and parmesan to make a simple pasta sauce or (in greater concentration) pesto. I also love sage tea, though I have a very big pack of dried sage bought during the winter that I’m ploughing through for that purpose. The “problem” this year is that the sage plant has already grown to be absolutely mahoosive, with the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on such a plant. And for that reason I’d like to extend my repertoire of dishes that call for it.

What shall I do with all this (lemon) thyme on my hands?

M is a big fan of lemon thyme, and I have to say that whatever he cooks with it does indeed taste very good. However, my preference is clearly for the more ordinary variety – if I want something to taste lemony, then I’ll put some lemon juice or zest in it. However, maybe someone out there knows of a dish (or a drink or other use – it doesn’t have to be “food” per se) where lemon thyme works really well and has a definite advantage over its more down-to-earth relative.

Anyone got recipes that are worth a mint?

This is where my German friends are expected to say “But you eat mint sauce with everything, don’t you?” and I roll my eyes skywards and grimace. Asterix has a lot to answer for! In actual fact, I really went off mint at some point after childhood, and it’s only now that I’m really appreciating it. Yes, it IS good with lamb, and I use it a lot in Indian cooking (various curry sauces and raita) and Middle Eastern / North African dishes (e.g. tabboulé). However, that still seems a bit of a narrow palette and I’d be glad if I could extend it somewhat. Tea made out of fresh mint is also delicious – I sometimes also mix it with fresh root ginger for a really zingy drink – but I’m looking for more strictly food-based ideas in this case.

Why are there no bad puns on “oregano”?

Oregano seems to be another of those staples everyone has in their herb and spice rack, but I can’t claim ever to have done anything very memorable with it. I tend to use it mostly in combination with other herbs, sometimes in salads or with Italian and Greek food. It really doesn’t have a strong profile with me, though.

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I’d be really delighted to receive some tips and tricks for the herbs I’m a bit stuck on, and indeed on any of the others mentioned. And now I’m off to cook a curry!

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Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Tomorrow I will be making another step in  my so far successful quest to convince German friends that British food goes beyond fish and chips, haggis, baked beans and spongy square white sliced bread (“untoasted toast” as one student once put it – I guess you have to have lived in Germany to get that one) and is actually rather good.

The main attraction is going to be beef and Guinness casserole with herb dumplings. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – a very quaint English-sounding mixture to those of us who grew up with the song “Scarborough Fair” and were aware that it was not written by a couple of folk-rock dudes from New York.

The line is a recurring refrain throughout the song, which in its simplest form is the lament of someone who has been left by his lover and imagines a string of impossible-sounding feats that will win her back. The herbs mantra seems at first sight (or hearing) not to make much sense, but centuries-old knowledge about the medicinal properties of these four herbs can be tied in to give a somewhat clearer allegorical meaning.

  • Parsley is well known as an aid to digestion (remember Peter Rabbit?) and as a herb to counteract bitterness or acrid tastes (garlic might fall into the latter category). The jilted lover in the song presumably hopes to overcome his own feelings of bitterness.
  • Sage, whose Latin name salvia comes from the verb meaning “to heal” or “to be / feel well”, is symbolic of strength – it is no coincidence that even today it is used as a herbal remedy for excessive sweating, as a means to “strengthen” the stomach following e.g. a course of antibiotics, and as a more general boost to the immune system thanks to its antioxidant properties. An old rhyming aphorism tells us “He that would live for aye / Must eat sage in May”. The “I” of the song thus wishes for strength to overcome his adversity and recover. In German folk tradition, sage was also used to prepare love potions.
  • The herb rosemary represents loyalty and constancy (maybe partly because it is evergreen), love and remembrance (Nicholas Culpeper noted that “It helps a weak memory” and that it is good for “all the diseases of the head and brain”), qualities the singer of the song has not been receiving too much of recently, but precisely those qualities and feelings he hopes to rekindle in his beloved lady.
  • Thyme also contains potent essential oils (the name derives from the Greek verb thyo, “to perfume”) and symbolizes courage. Culpeper said that wild thyme was “excellent for nervous disorders” and that it was “a certain remedy for that troublesome complaint, the night-mare”. The Ancient Greeks believed it strengthened certain masculine characteristics (it does have proven aphrodisiac qualities, apparently), and in the Middle Ages knights often had thyme painted on their shields as proof of their mettle. Today, apart from its continued use in cooking, it has largely been relegated to a remedy for coughs, sadly distant from its rather grander reputation in older thymes …. err, times. However, the protagonist in the song was probably not thinking about his bronchial health.

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