It's all very well to know that you can use thyme in a cheese soufflé or coriander in Thai crab cakes, but how many of us cook these for everyday family meals? So last week, with bright, perky leaves of thyme, basil and chives sitting on my kitchen worktop, I set about using them in every day meals and snacks. Here are some of the ways I used them. I hope that it might inspire you to use them in a similar way, and add them to basically everything that you cook.
I love chives, and remember walking the dogs with my Mum and sister and taking along a carrier bag and a pair of scissors and picking them in the wild. They give a mild oniony flavour and little specks of bright green colour to loads of dishes.
- Snip chives into a creamy korma - they'll give off their fresh fragrance as soon as they hit the hot sauce.
- Snip into stir-fries, such as Pad Thai - don't be tempted to leave them in long strands though, no matter how good you think it will look - they need to be snipped into 2cm long pieces so you can eat them easily.
- Sprinkle them in to mash, or just scatter into a pan of buttered new potatoes.
- A childhood favourite of mine was cheese on toast scattered with chives. They go so well with cheese, especially soft cheese. Sprinkle into sandwiches, salads and baguettes and don't forget them in toasted sandwiches as well. I've also snipped chives onto tuna mayonnaise and made sandwiches or baked potato toppings.
- Chives are also great stirred into sour cream and used as a dip for potato wedges.
Thyme is a fragrant, woody herb with twisted little sprigs that you can snip off and add to dishes. You can either drop in the sprig whole to add flavour to soups and stews or pull off the tiny leaves and sprinkle them into dishes.
- Thyme works very well with beef and so drop sprigs into beef stews or into meat pies so that it can infuse its sweet fragrance.
- Toss new potatoes with thyme sprigs, olive oil and salt before roasting
- Thyme is great with cheese, especially soft cheeses. Scatter some sprigs and poke them into the rind of a whole camembert or brie, drizzle over some honey and bake until soft.
- Next time you're boiling some carrots, add in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a few thyme sprigs. They will add flavour and richness.
- Scatter some thyme sprigs over chicken portions before roasting. You'll be surprised at how much of the herb's flavour will absorb into the chicken, especially into the skin.
Basil, along with parsley, is a herb I use constantly in the kitchen. It has delicate, bright green leaves that are very sensitive to being crushed (they'll go black and floppy) or the cold (they'll also go black and floppy) so don't store them in the fridge. Tear up basil with your hands - don't chop - and you'll release more of the important oils that give them their distinctive, sweet and peppery flavour.
- Basil is traditionally paired with tomatoes and they do work very well together. Make up a tomato and mozzarella salad and sprinkle over some basil leaves, rip up a few into a tomato soup and also into tomato pasta sauces.
- Add to sandwiches - sometimes I use herbs in the same way I would use salad leaves. A few basil leaves in a sandwich will add freshness and a burst of flavour.
- Basil has recently been used more and more in desserts. Try them with strawberries - James Martin has a recipe for basil with strawberries and a balsamic vinegar reduction. If you don't feel as cheffy as that, just use it for inspiration for trying with sweet dishes too.
- Basil works really well with lemon. Scatter torn basil leaves into lemon juice, olive oil and grated parmesan for a quick pesto to toss hot, drained pasta into.
- Once you've made your own pesto with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil you'll never buy jars of it from the supermarket again. You could also blitz up basil with some tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil and use it as a marinade for chicken.
How do you use herbs in your everyday cooking? What herbs can't you be without in the kitchen?