Homegrown HERB BLENDS
Create authentic dishes from around the world with these homegrown herb and spice mixes.
Bouquet garni consists of whole sprigs of fresh herbs tied in a bundle. It can be added to soups, stocks, sauces and casseroles.
Traditionally it contains bay leaf, parsley and thyme, though there are many variations to the recipe. A sprig of savory could be added, for example, or the warm flavouring of marjoram.
The herbs can also be bundled together with a stem of celery or a baby leek to impart extra flavour. If you find your herbs come apart while cooking, place them in a small muslin bag. This way, peppercorns can also be added to the mix.
Bouquet garni is typically added at the beginning of cooking to enable the flavour to be released in slow cooking.
Ingredients • 1 bay leaf • 1 bunch parsley stalks • 2 sprigs thyme
Tie the herbs together with unwaxed kitchen string and add to your pot while cooking.
The most important herb mix in French cuisine is fines herbes. It’s a lovely blend of fresh parsley, chervil, chives and French tarragon, though in modern day kitchens thyme is sometimes added. Be careful when adding extra herbs as the traditional flavouring will change. You can change the quantities of the four herbs though to suit your palate; for a more delicate flavour, add less chives and tarragon. If you want the flavours turned up loud, add more. Fines herbes partners well with egg dishes, cream-based recipes, potatoes, rice and seafood.
Ingredients • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley • 2 tablespoons fresh chives • 2 tablespoons fresh chervil • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
Chop herbs finely before use. If cooking, add to the pot at the last minute. Or sprinkle atop dishes without cooking; it‘s especially good added to omelettes.
English herb blend
There is an English version of fines herbes, which includes parsley, chives, thyme and tarragon, though this blend typically uses dried herbs.
To make up a mix, combine 5-6 tablespoons each of the above herbs and store in an airtight container. Use with lamb and pork, or add to stuffing.
Italian herb blend
If you like your Italian dishes, you can prepare a dried Italian herb mix in advance, using dried bay leaf, parsley, thyme and celery leaves. Add it to dishes where Italian herbs are called for.
Ingredients • 10 dried bay leaves • 1 tablespoon dried sage • 1 tablespoon dried thyme • 1 tablespoon dried oregano • 1 tablespoon paprika • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Crush the bay leaves with a rolling pin, until fine. Combine with the rest of the herbs and store in an airtight container. This mix can be added to the pot when cooking or used as a herb rub on meats.
Herbes de Provence
This is a mixture of dried herbs typical of the Provence region of southeast France. Sprinkle into omelettes and stews or over meat, fish and poultry before cooking. Or mix with vinegar, oil and a little Dijon mustard to make a salad dressing.
The following recipe uses many herbs, but you could make a simpler version with just thyme, rosemary, sweet marjoram, summer savory and oregano.
Ingredients • 2 teaspoons dried thyme • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary • 1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers • 2 teaspoons dried sweet marjoram • 1 teaspoon summer savory • 1 teaspoon dried oregano • 1 teaspoon dried mint • 2 teaspoons dried basil • 1 teaspoon dried sage • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Place herbs in a food processor or blender and whizz until finely chopped. Store in an airtight container.
If you like a bit of fire with your food, grow your own mustard seeds. Grind them and you have yourself some mustard powder that is as good as you get from any supermarket shelf.
Ingredients • ½ cup white (aka yellow) mustard seeds • ½ cup brown mustard seeds • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns • 1 cup olive oil • 1 cup white wine vinegar • 2 teaspoons chopped French tarragon
Grind the mustard seeds in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Place ground mustard seeds and remaining ingredients in a food processor and process into a smooth paste. Place in sterilised jars. Leave to mature for at least a couple of weeks before opening.
Lemon herb seasoning
This herb mix goes with many dishes – seafood, chicken, roast potatoes and veges, and salads. You can buy onion flakes from the supermarket, or you can make your own. Peel and finely chop onions, spread onto an oven tray and place in an 80oc oven until dry and brittle (4-6 hours). The onions are ready when they crumble easily between your fingers. Keep an eye on them towards the end of baking so they don’t turn brown. Allow onions to cool then grind in a food processor, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container. One medium onion yields about 3 tablespoons of dried onion flakes. Garlic is dried in the same way.
You can collect your own celery seeds too. The seeds sold in the shops are taken from wild celery rather than the domesticated celery we grow in our gardens (you can buy wild celery from Italian Seeds Pronto) although you can use seed from ordinary celery too. Lovage seed is also a good substitute.
Ingredients • 5 tablespoons dried basil • 3½ tablespoons dried oregano • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes • ½ teaspoon garlic powder • 1½ tablespoons celery seed • ½ to 1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
Grind basil and oregano roughly with a mortar and pestle or more finely in a food processor. Transfer to a small bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix together then store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
No salt mix
This mix is a great substitute for salt – just sprinkle it over your food before eating.
Ingredients • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds • 1 teaspoon dill seeds • 2 teaspoons celery seeds • 1 dried bay leaf
Grind herbs in a mini food processor.
In her famous reference Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), Mrs Beeton wrote about the herb savory: “This we find described by Columella, a voluminous Roman writer on agriculture, as an odoriferous herb, which, ‘in the brave days of old,’ entered into the seasoning of nearly every dish.” She then offered her recipe for Herb Powder “for when fresh herbs are not obtainable”.
Ingredients • 1 oz of dried lemon thyme • 1 oz of dried winter savory • 1 oz of dried sweet marjoram and basil • 2 oz of dried parsley • 1 oz of dried lemon peel
Mrs Beeton says: “Pick the leaves from the stalks, pound them, and sift them through a hair-sieve; mix in the above proportions, and keep in glass bottles, carefully excluding the air. This, we think, a far better method of keeping herbs, as the flavour and fragrance do not evaporate so much as when they are merely put in paper bags.
”In this way, you have them ready for use at a moment's notice. Mint, sage, parsley and more, dried, pounded, and each put into separate bottles, will be found very useful in winter.”
The more flavoursome the herb, the better the finished oil. Experiment with single herbs or a mix of them to complement certain dishes. When using lavender for culinary purposes, use English lavender ( Lavandula angustifolia), which has the sweetest flavour.