For The Love of Herbs

One thing I really enjoy about cooking (among a hundred other things I could mention) is being able to use fresh herbs all year round. They often save my day – and my cooking! Fresh herbs are far more multifaceted and subtle than their dried counterparts, and with their fresh, green appearance they can pep up even the dullest of dishes.

The herbs that top my list of favourites vary depending on whatever cooking frenzy I’m going through: Am I craving an Asian style dish or an Italian classic? But I do have certain favourites that stick with me even though the recipes keep changing.

Coriander

Or cilantro as it is also known. You either love or hate those green leaves and there’s no use trying to hide its distinctive taste. Any Thai dish or a bowl of steaming hot Vietnamese pho soup calls for an abundance of coriander leaves, as does Indian food. It is the perfect partner in all kinds of Mexican food – a match made in heaven. I like to keep coriander on my windowsill at all times. In a matter of seconds you can whip up a sauce for dipping pita bread using only coriander, yoghurt and garlic. Deliciously simple! Plating pulled pork can be a bit tricky. For all its delicious goodness, it does not look pretty on a serving dish. Sprinkle a handful of chopped coriander on top and you’ve got an instant makeover. Even something as ordinary as steamed carrots become irresistible when tossed with coriander.

Flat-leaf parsley

A sister to coriander by appearance, but distinctively different in smell and taste. There can never be too much of it. It is straightforward and fresh, supporting the taste of any ingredient without overpowering. As with other herbs, I’m forced to limit its use in winter as the herbs are quite costly in stores. And this far north, with the little daylight we have in winter, I haven’t yet managed to keep a garden alive on my windowsill. Summer will be my saviour, as I’ll be able to sow the seeds outside in my little herb garden. I can hardly wait until I have enough parsley to try out this recipe for Lebanese tabbouleh I’ve found in a cookbook. It calls for 7.5 dl of flat-leaf parsley! It is so going to be the best.

My summertime favourite, as sauces go, is without a doubt chimichurri. It’s got just the right amount of tanginess, a superb colour and must be one of the all-time easiest sauces to make. Just chop up a lot of flat-leaf parsley and coriander along with some garlic, oil and red wine vinegar using your hand blender, then season with salt and smoked paprika and voilà!

Dill

There was a time when dill seemed like the dullest of all herbs. It’s a very traditional herb in Scandinavian and Slavic cooking, and I have many childhood memories of it, especially accompanying fish and in pickled cucumber. Rediscovering this wonderfully aromatic herb has been both challenging and rewarding. Dill is absolutely beautiful in a forest mushroom soup or with lamb and feta cheese.

Lovage

First, it grew into a man-sized bush in my garden. Then I started thinking about how I could use it. Lovage has a very strong flavour and is traditionally used in soups as a substitute for bouillon. Try drying it with sea salt flakes for a wonderfully distinctive finger salt. Or why not turn the leaves into a creamy soup; I’ve tested it and it works. The best innovation by far is lovage pesto. It tastes out of this world with vegetarian pasta or anything grilled.

Other herbs

I use a lot of basil, mint, rosemary and thyme as well. I choose rosemary or thyme to season my oven-baked potato wedges. The sacred alliance of thyme, garlic and butter enhances anything fried and I can’t imagine risotto without thyme. Rosemary paired with garlic is a good base for any kind of marinade. Mint enlivens a Vietnamese salad and makes up a proper mojito. Basil is wonderful in herb oil or pesto and just irresistible on a slice of sourdough bread with a ripe tomato.

Wild herbs

Wild herbs are something I’m just starting to get into. Although I live in a town, we’re surrounded by nature and forest. Until now, I have let the wild herbs be for the most part. But having children has made me think about what I want to teach them. I know nothing better than foraging and discovering new plants with ever-so-curious children and teaching them to respect nature. I recently bought a handy little book on wild herbs and intend to learn one or two new herbs each spring. At the moment, I am only acquainted with nettles and dandelions, but I’m eager to learn. I’ll start with the 75 wild herbs described in my new book…

It has been quite a chilly spring in the north, but the grass is now green and the trees have finally leafed out. The ground is still quite cold, though, so I haven’t planted my garden yet. But I plan at least to have coriander, flat-leaf parsley, lovage, oregano, thyme, estragon and sage. And basil, of course. A delicious summer lies ahead.

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