Thyme is one of the great European culinary herbs whose use spread with the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks. When it is used in cooking its wonderful smell fills the kitchen with a mouth-watering aroma.

Traditionally the ancient Greeks used thyme in their baths. Today if you simmer a handful of thyme leaves in 1/2 lt of water for 10 mins, then add the strained liquid into your bath, it will help ease tired muscles. Equally one can put the strained liquid into a hand spray and use it to clean the kitchen work surfaces as thyme is a strong antiseptic.

In the past ten years research has indicated that thyme is a strong antioxidant, this is a substance that inhibits the destructive effects of deterioration in both foodstuffs and the body.

In the kitchen, thyme is great with fish, chicken and many vegetable dishes. It is also lovely rolled into pastry before baking.

Baked Lamb Stew with Potatoes and Thyme.

(Recipe from Jekka’s Herb Cook Booked published by Ebury)

This is a form of Irish stew that my mother regularly made from very cheap cuts of lamb. The potatoes absorb the fat released from the lamb as it cooks, which in turn makes them delicious. The thyme enhances the flavour of the lamb. You can use stewing lamb or, if you wish to impress, you can use lamb chops. It is a highly aromatic, warming and nourishing; an all in one meal.

Serves 6

  • 1kg (2lbs 3oz) stewing lamb, cut into chunks or 12 small chops
  • 1kg (2lbs 3oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 large red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • The equivalent of 3 tablespoons of thyme leaves, either a single variety or a mixture of any of the following thymes; Compact, Porlock, French, Common or Jekka’s.
  • 3 tbs of chopped Celery Leaf including the stems (Flat leaved parsley makes an ideal substitute)
  • 125ml, olive oil
  • 6 ripe large tomatoes, cut into thick slices
  • 50g, (1.5oz) butter
  • 125ml, water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC 350ºF Gas Mk4.

Put the prepared lamb, onions and potatoes into a large casserole dish or a deep baking dish, season to taste. Add the thyme, parsley and olive oil. Mix the ingredients thoroughly with your hands turning all the vegetables and meat over. Cover the potatoes and lamb with a single layer of sliced tomatoes, lightly salt, then dot with butter over the top. Cover with a double layer of grease proof paper or baking foil, bake for 2 hours. From time to time, remove the cover and spoon some of the juices over the top of the dish. When cooked the lamb should be tender and the potatoes soft. Remove the casserole from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 200ºC, 400 ºF Gas 6. Remove the foil or baking paper, return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further 45 minutes. After 20 minutes gently, but thoroughly, turn the lamb, potatoes and tomatoes. This will brown the potatoes and the meat as well as reducing the cooking juices. Ideally serve the dish with fresh chunky bread and/or salad and/or broccoli.

Find out more about thyme