Find out which herbs work best with which cuisines.
While writing our book Around the World in Salads, I became fascinated with the fact that herbs can give nationality to recipes. Our foodie memories are made of the sights and smells of our experiences and travels: as soon as I taste the combination of torn basil leaves over a tomato salad I am transported to a little trattoria in Tuscany; the aniseed-flavoured narrow leaves of tarragon with chicken and cream remind me of French holidays as a child; tight bundles of curly parsley will always make me think of my English mother when she decorated her mashed potato, and finely chopped dill with salmon takes me straight to Scandinavia.
Particular combinations of herbs have an even more distinct territory. Mint on its own might remind you of British roast lamb with fresh mint sauce, but handfuls of mint leaves mixed with tarragon and coriander transports you to Vietnam, in recipes such as my Fruity Salad & Roasted Duck with Five Spice Marinade. The mixture of sage, rosemary and garlic dates back to the Ancient Romans who brought those herbs to UK shores. In Sicily I learnt to make green herby breadcrumbs from the heady mixture of parsley, oregano and thyme quickly whizzed in a food processor. They were the inspiration for my Chargrilled Squid, Potato, Watercress with Green Breadcrumbs and Lemon Dressing.
How fresh herbs add natural flavour
I love to use an abundance of fresh herbs in cooking, from the beginning of a recipe to the end – and I am not always talking about just a leaf or two; I have learnt to use large handfuls in my cooking since writing the book. I was once told that a good salad should be like a good conversation, it should never be dull! Instead it should be peppered with bursts of flavour and amusement. This is where fresh herbs come in; try adding handfuls of different soft leaved herbs to salads, you will never look back.
I always start meaty ragu with onions, garlic and a couple of sprigs of rosemary. A summery tomato sauce for pasta is enhanced by cooking it with a large sprig of basil, its gentle clove-like scent adding another layer of flavour. Any Middle Eastern dish is finished with a handful of coriander or parsley leaves. Both pizza and Roasted Vegetable & Orzo Pasta Salad need a generous garnish of flamboyant basil leaves scattered over the top.
If you are cutting back on salt, herbs are a great way to add natural seasoning. We eat eggs most mornings for breakfast, but change the flavour with the addition of fresh herbs. Our scrambled eggs have fresh chopped parsley, chives or dill added to them, or for a change try adding a few leaves of coriander to eggs frying in coconut oil in a frying pan, flip them over briefly to seal them in and you will have not only delicious, but really pretty eggs with a difference. Next time you cook a salmon steak put a knob of butter, seasoning and a tablespoon of finely chopped dill on top and cook it in baking parchment, so simple and just delightful hot or cold. Or try a cleansing tea made from a bay leaf, a sprig of sage and rosemary for a completely natural flavour.
Herbs are wonderful in desserts too! Fruit marries well with leaves; try adding basil to slices of fresh pineapple or mint leaves to strawberries like the Strawberry, Pistachio & Mint Salad with Rose Water Cream & Meringue below.
Enjoy these recipes and have herbilicious fun experimenting for yourself!
Taken from Around the World in Salads 120 Ways to Love Your Leaves by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi, published by Kyle Books, priced at £16.99. Photography by Helen Cathcart.