Herbily Ever After

Supermarkets chillers are full of them, neatly stacked in their sanitized plastic containers.  But how often do you actually utilize the whole packet? Oh, you get the odd recipe that calls for a sprinkling of coriander here, or a snippet of chives there, but don’t you always find half-empty herb packets mouldering at the back of your fridge?

Stored in their cellophane containers, we can’t really appreciate them properly, and we forget how marvellous herbs really are. Go to your local greengrocer and (if they let you) handle the herbs. Smell them. Taste them. Hand select your own herbs. You will usually get a better quality of herb, with the root intact, from a greengrocer, and you can buy the amount you want and need, not a pre-decided amount that will rot in the back of your fridge, like mine.

Even better, buy your own herbs from the garden centre, and plant them in window boxes or old crates in your garden for an instant herb garden (although it is better to wait for more clement weather if you intend to use your garden rather than your window sill for your herbs). Please note that not all herbs thrive all year round, but we seem to have a good success rate in our garden in the South East with rosemary, mint, thyme and bay all year round.

Herbs are plants used to add flavour to a meal, but more importantly they have a history of being used for medicinal purposes for centuries, if not millenia. Not only do they offer a better and more varied taste to your meals, they are full of health-giving properties. Recent research has found the antioxidant content of several common herbs (in particular, oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary and peppermint) to be significantly higher than other potent antioxidant-rich plants, such as blueberries. Antioxidants help protect the body against cellular damage, and can delay the signs of aging and help prevent the development of aging-related diseases.  See WHFoods: Herbs-Packed with Powerful Antioxidants-Oregano Ranks Highest for more details.

Which herbs do I use regularly? Thyme (any variety); bashed up with a garlic clove, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, and loosened with a slug of oil to dress chicken thighs for baking for the children (and us). Flat-leaf parsley, used as a leaf in salads, or chopped to add flavour to a tomato and onion salad, or a quinoa tabbouleh. Basil, for tomato and mozzarella salads, or whizzed into a home-made pesto, or added to a salsa verde to use with roasted meats and fish. Coriander, chopped coarsely and added to curries, or Asian rice dishes (Nasi Goreng is a favourite). Rosemary from the garden, crushed with garlic and salt, with olive oil, to marinate lamb cutlets.

I tend to use my left-over herbs in my daily green juice (see my earlier post Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating). I regularly juice flat-leaf parsley, mint and basil, and indeed buy them specifically for this purpose. Parsley is a natural diuretic, very cleansing and potent, so it is prudent to use less rather than more when starting to juice. Parsley also helps reduce oedema (swelling), improve the blood transport system, and support the kidneys.  It is rich in antioxidants, as well as minerals and vitamins such as K, C and A. Leslie Kenton has a fantastic parsley juice recipe in Juice High: Experience the Power of Raw Energy, which she suggests may be helpful for allergy sufferers.

Parsley Passion

  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 3-5 carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 2 small cauliflower florets

I also often use herbs to make fresh infusions (just add a tsp or tbsp (to taste) of the washed, fresh herb to some freshly boiled water and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes). Camomile from the garden, or lemon verbena, helps calm the mind, and makes a great pre-bedtime drink. Fresh mint tea is a good post-prandial drink; it is carminative (anti-spasmodic) and a great digestive aid, as well as being anti-microbial, and cooling and refreshing for hot days or nights.

Last Saturday, fed up with the mediocrity of our local Indian take-aways, we decided to cook our own curry. We wanted lots of fresh vegetables too, so we made our own Kachumber, which is a sort of Indian onion salad or salsa. We also made a Raita from full-fat goat’s yogurt, with cooling cumin and cucumber, to take the heat off the curry. The curry recipe we used from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible and it was actually Trinidadian, but the flavours worked well with the Kachumber and Raita. We chose it because it was so green, and sounded fresh and delicious with the addition of so many herbs and spices. We ate it with fresh papadums from the local curry house, and it was a triumph. Incidentally, we had a little left over. It was fantastic cold as well; the flavour intensified in the fridge overnight, and I ate the leftovers for lunch with the remains of the kachumber, regarnished with extra coriander.

Indian Spices

Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash

Kachumber

  • 1 carrot, finely sliced into juliennes
  • 1  onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 tomato (heirloom, preferably), sliced and seasoned
  • 2 ins cucumber diced into fine strands
  • 1 red chilli, cut into strands
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds, ground with a teaspoon of salt

Mix together, and chill before serving

Raita

Mix together, and chill before serving.

 

Curry Boneless Chicken

Serves 4

Marinade

  • 6 tbsp peeled and finely chopped onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 spring onions sliced finely into rings
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, picked
  • 3 bird’s eye chillies, chopped (I could not get the scotch bonnet variety this time)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1lb skinned chicken breasts, sliced thickly crossways

For cooking the chicken:

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp hot curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground, roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp amchar masala (see below)

Amchar Masala (a Trinidadian mixture of roasted spices using Indian pickling spices)

  • 4 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  1. Dry fry all the spices over a medium heat in a small, cast-iron frying pan.
  2. Stir for 1-2 minutes until spices turn a shade darker.
  3. Remove from pan, cool, and grind finely with food processor or coffee grinder.
  4. Store in dark cupboard in airtight jar.

To make the dish:

  1. Make the marinade; put onion, garlic, spring onion, parsley, coriander, thyme, chilli, ginger, salt, black pepper and 2 tbsp water into blender, blend to a smooth paste.
  2. Put the sliced chicken in a bowl.  Add marinade, ensuring chicken is covered.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes, and for as long as possible (maximum 3 hours)
  3. Add oil to a wide, non-stick pan, and add garlic, over a medium-high heat.  When garlic starts to sizzle, add curry powder and stir for 10 seconds.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken and marinade, and stir for 3-4 minutes until the chicken turns white.
  5. Add 120ml of water, the salt, cumin and amchar masala; stir and bring to a simmer.
  6. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes, while stirring.
  7. Serve with extra chopped coriander, the kachumber, the raita and papadums.  Mango chutney and lime pickle go well with this too.

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