A versatile and widely used aromatic herb. Basil is an annual plant that is easy to grow from seed but is very sensitive to cold. The plant grows well in warm climates and is widely used throughout southern Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, and in many parts of Asia. There are numerous species of basil; some have scents reminiscent of pineapple, lemon, cinnamon or cloves; others have beautiful purple leaves. The variety called holy basil (tulsi) is an essential part of an authentic Thai curry. In Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato is a classic combination. Pesto, made from basil leaves and pine nuts, with parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil (traditionally pounded together in a mortar and pestle – the latter lends pesto its name) is another classic dish.
Goes well with: Tomato sauces, Pesto, Pizza, Bruschetta, Salad, Mozerella and pasta dishes
Substitute: Oregano or thyme
The aromatic leaf from the bay laurel tree, it is an essential component of the classic bouquet garni: parsley, thyme and a bay leaf. The bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store cupboard ingredient. It’s also one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose its flavour when dried.
Goes well with: Soups and chowders; add to water for cooking vegetables. (i.e.) potatoes or pasta; spaghetti sauce, casseroles, stews; meat, especially beef dishes, chicken and turkey; fish (when poaching shrimp or cooking shellfish); in marinades; part of bouquet garni; in milk to flavor rice pudding. Almost indispensible when cooking.
Substitute: Bouquet Garni, Thymes
The smallest and most delicate member of the onion family, chives are a popular herb used in European cookery. They have long, thin green blades that are hollow inside. They have a mild, grassy flavour similar to baby spring onions or young leeks. There is also an Asian variety of chive called Chinese chives, garlic chives or kuchai.
Goes well with: Omelettes, quiche, cheese spreads and dips, tuna salad; sprinkled over broiled tomatoes, green salad, potato salad, potato salad, potato soup, baked potatoes and other vegetables; to garnish soups. The purple flowers of onion chives are edible (soups, salads), have an oniony flavor and make a beautiful pink-purple vinegar.
Substitute: Green onions (scallions); onion; or leek
Coriander is one of the world’s most commonly used herbs – in spite of the fact that the name comes from the Greek, koris, meaning bed bug! It is green, leafy and strong-smelling with a fresh, citrus taste that makes it an invaluable garnish and flavour enhancer. Both the fresh leaves and stalks are edible, as well as the berries, which are dried and called coriander seeds. Native to southern Europe and the Middle East, the plant is now grown worldwide. Coriander tends to be associated most with Asian and Central and South American cooking. For maximum flavour, it is best added to dishes just before serving.
Goes well with: Chicken, fish, lamb and rice, pasta or vegetable dishes. Also good in salsa, taco fillings, black bean and corn salad, lentil or black bean soups; in butters for vegetables or fish. Distinctive flavor found in Caribbean, Indian, Thai, Chines, Mexican or Latin American dishes. Seems to go well with most “hot” cuisines. Seeds (coriander) also used, can be collected and ground.
Curry leaves are the shiny, dark green, aromatic leaves of a tree from the citrus fruit family that release a deliciously nutty aroma when fried in hot oil. A staple of South Indian cooking, curry leaves are used in Indian and South East Asian cuisine in the same way as bay leaves are used in the West.
Goes well with: Soups, Curries, Mixed vegetables, Lentils, Samosas, onion Bhaji
Substitute: basil leaves, bay leaves and kaffir lime leaves
Also known as dill weed, this is a green herb with wiry, thread-like leaves that grow in clusters. It has a strong, distinctive taste that is like a combination of fennel, anise and celery, with warm, slightly bitter undertones.
Goes well with: Lentil, pea or bean soups; in all egg dishes, with cheese and most fish; lamb, chicken. Add to dressings for sliced cucumbers or with beets. Delicious in potato, tuna, egg or pasta salads, with cabbage, seafood cocktail, salad dressings; dips, sauces for fish. Seeds, which have a stronger flavor, used in breads, salads, pickling.
There are many different species of mint, but the one used most widely in Western cooking is spearmint, native to the Mediterranean and widely cultivated in the UK. It can be ground into mint sauce or jelly – the ultimate accompaniment to roast lamb. Peppermint has dark green leaves and is used to flavour ice cream, sweets and confectionary.
Goes well with: Use mint in a variety of dishes including fruit salads, stuffings, tabbouleh and for Thai dishes including soups and curries.
Substitute: Basil; marjoram; or rosemary
A pungent green herb with a great affinity for a variety of foods, from lamb to vegetables, stuffings and egg dishes. Oregano is closely related to marjoram. It is characteristic of many Greek dishes (particularly lamb) and in the UK is often sprinkled liberally on pizzas. Oregano grows easily in well protected areas in the UK.
Goes well with: Chop and use to top pizzas, add to Greek salad, or use a large bunch as a bed on which to roast a joint.
Substitute: Thyme or basil
No kitchen should be without a good supply of this multi-purpose herb. It can be used as a garnish and flavouring and as a vegetable. There are two main varieties: curly leaf and flatleaf. Both can be used for the same purposes although flatleaf parsley has a stronger flavour and tends to be favoured in Mediterranean cooking.
Goes well with: In Middle Eastern salads; with basil, to make pesto; add to soups, stews, sauces, meatballs, fishcakes, burgers, salsas and marinades.
Substitute: Chervil or cilantro
Rosemary is a robust and most versatile herb with a flavour that complements a wide variety of dishes and ingredients. Native to the Mediterranean, its bittersweet green leaves resemble pine needles. The plant is an evergreen shrub, so the leaves are available fresh all year round.
Goes well with: Beef, lamb, veal, pork, rabbit, goose, duck and poultry; for roasts, make slits with a knife and insert garlic slivers and rosemary leaves. Rosemary is particularly good with lamb. Use when cooking eggplant, squash and in sauce for lasagna; in vinegars, oils and marinades; with thyme for frying or roasting potatoes, focaccia, marinated olives. In baking cookies, breads, cornbread, biscuits
Substitute: Thyme; tarragon; or savory
The colour of downy sage leaves and their flavour varies but, in essence, sage is a very strongly aromatic and slightly bitter herb that can withstand long cooking times without losing its flavour.
Goes well with: Add to pasta sauces; use for meat or poultry stuffings; quickly fry in butter and use as a garnish for risotto or pumpkin dishes.
Substitute: Poultry seasoning; savory; marjoram; or rosemary
No kitchen should be without the heady, aromatic flavour of thyme. There are many different varieties, both cultivated and wild, with flavours of mint, caraway, lemon, and stronger varieties that taste more akin to oregano.
Goes well with: All meats, vegetables, casseroles, soups, stuffings, meatloaf, marinades and pâtés. Excellent for herb bread and flavored butters. Good with mushrooms, fried potatoes, carrots (and other vegetables) and in omelettes. Commonly used in clam chowder and gumbo; used in French, Creole and Cajun cooking. Lemon thyme is excellent with fish and chicken.
Substitute: Basil; marjoram; oregano; or savory
Often used in French cooking this herb has long, soft green leaves and a distinctive aniseed flavour. A perfect match with chicken, it can also be used to flavour oils and vinegars. Dried tarragon retains much of the flavour of fresh, so it is fine to use if you can’t find fresh. It is one of the herbs that makes up fines herbes and is also used in béarnaise sauce.
Goes well with: Use to make sauces for fish and poultry. Add to salad dressings; use to flavour butter or white wine vinegar.
Substitute: Chervil; dash fennel seed; or dash aniseed
I hope you have found this useful. if there is anything else you would like adding, don’t forget to drop us a line!
Let’s Get Britain Cooking! 🙂