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Tradiiional proverb herbs is that you'll find you can cut back on the amount of salt you add to your food. The herbs will be flavor enough!

One golden rule is to avoid allowing one flavor to dominate the others. Herb and spice mixes such as garam masala and ras el hanout are a delicate exercise in balancing a wide range of flavors. Even if you like a bit of heat, too much fresh chili can overwhelm the more subtle herbs and spices accompanying it. Similarly, very pungent herbs, such as fresh coriander, are not to everyone's taste, so a light hand is recommended.

You can always add more fresh herbs at the table. In Iranian and Vietnamese cooking, a bowl of fresh herbs is a standard appetiser or accompaniment. Similarly, the Lebanese offer a platter of fresh herbs and vegetables as part of a mezze table.

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Chop herbs with a mezzaluna (half-moon-shaped blade), a sharp knife or scissors You can use a food processor for large bunches, hut don't over-process ihem. Fine-leafed herbs can also be shredded by hand, but coarse herbs, such as rosemary, need fine chopping unless whole sprigs are appropriate for lhe recipe. Herbs such as basil, coriander and sage discolor if they are chopped too early before use.

As a general rule, when cooking with herbs, the soft-leafed ones, such as coriander, are best added late in the cooking process to preserve their flavor. The coarser ones, such as rosemary, are ideal for dishes that require long, slow cooking. Dried herbs are usually more concentrated in flavor than fresh ones, so you will need less of them.

Fresh herbs

• Select vibrant, aromatic leaves with no signs of wilting or yellowing.

• Ideally, buy fresh herbs as and when you need them. However well you store them, they quickly deteriorate in flavor and appearance, particularly the soft-leafed varieties such as flat-leaf parsley, coriander and lovage. The coarser herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, are a little hardier.

• Store fresh herbs for no more than 3 or 4 days. Loosely wrap unwashed bunches in damp paper towels and store in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag in a cool place.

• Alternatively, stand the stems in a jug with a little water and loosely cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator, changing the water daily.

• Or store the herbs in plastic bags and place them in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator.

Bouquet garni, an herb mix used in classic French cuisine, includes parsley, bay and thyme

• Buy herbs sold in plastic boxes or cellophane bags - they keep well if stored in the refrigerator.

• Preserve chopped fresh herbs by freezing them in a little water in ice-cube trays.

. For more detailed information, see Harvesting, preserving and storing, pages 172-5. Delicate herbs such as basil do not dry well, but more robust herbs such as thyme and rosemary retain their flavor well and are a convenient alternative to fresh.

• When you are ready to use them, wash herbs in a bowl of cold water rather than running water, which can bruise them. Pat them dry with paper towels.

Continue reading here: Dried herbs and spices

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