I do a lot of cooking over Christmas, usually for family and friends, cooking from scratch and feeding the 5000…. I love it of course and I like the fact that I have time to add my favourite ingredients even if it means nipping out to the garden to find my herbs, often buried in leaves from the autumn fall and sometimes frost or snow, even if it is somewhat chilli! At this time of year, I feel that whilst I want to achieve great flavours, I also want to ensure I’m using ingredients that have nutritional value to protect us over the cold winter months. Here are some of my favourite herbs for cooking over Christmas.
Bay (Laurus nobilis)
and as the name suggests it is very noble indeed. Bay leaves add depth of field to a recipe and so is a must in hearty stews and other long-simmering dishes. They give a peppery, medicinal like flavour. Use the whole leaves at the beginning of the cooking process and discard them once the dish is ready. Fresh are stronger than dried, always try to use fresh where possible. Bay trees do very well, even in pots…. Always a useful addition to the patio if you can’t plant one.
This great herb is both ornamental in my garden as well as culinary, though, I limit the use of lavender to sweet dishes rather than savoury and use it sparingly as it is quite strong. I also cut lavender from time to time and place it on my desk in the office and in the bedroom as it has a very calming effect.
Mint is a top culinary performer and is used greatly in my kitchen in food and drinks as herbal infusions and well and virgin spritzers. It has been cultivated for its medicinal properties since ancient times, found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC. Mint is a powerful digestive aid after meals, however, it is also stimulatory so should be avoided directly before bedtime.
Oregano is a fabulous Mediterranean herb used extensively in Italian and Greek cooking, and pairs well with vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergine, and squash as well as lamb and chicken. Oregano aids digestion acts as an antiseptic and is a preservative.
Meaning the saviour, as named by the Romans for its great health properties. In culinary terms, Sage is used with fatty ingredients such as pork to help digestion. It was originally used to manage oral hygiene for it has antiseptic properties. Sage pairs particularly well with fennel to make spice rubs and marinades as we do here at The Academy.
Known for its cleansing properties – I am a big fan of the flat-leaf parsley in particular as it has such a wonderful flavour profile. It is of course the coriander of the Mediterranean and dishes greatly benefit from a liberally garnish of finely chopped parsley both in the spicing process and then at the end to garnish. I also use it like basil to make a number of dips with canned lentils much like hummus.
Another wonderful gift introduced to our shores by the Romans, with a great culinary flavour profile. It has many culinary uses including roast vegetables for tray bakes, lamb, and chicken roasts. I also use the strong stalks as skewers for a BBQ – particularly with halloumi. Like lavender, rosemary is a wonderfully fragrant herb, evergreen as a strong pine and forest-like so I also use it as a natural room fragrance enhancer.
Known for its wonderful thyme oil and rich for its medicinal uses as well as culinary. For me, thyme is a staple in the kitchen and used for both meat and vegetables with equal benefit. I use it with carrots and vegetables within the same flavour profile. It also works well in soups and stews.