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Cooking with Hyssop

Plus 7 of Our Favourite Hyssop Recipes

hyssop flower
Hyssop has great potential in the kitchen. It is also a herb of great antiquity, and definitely deserves a spot in every herb garden.

We hope these hyssop recipes and cooking tips will stimulate your imagination. Some of these recipes you will recognize, others might sound too adventurous. Our only intention here is to show you how easy it is to use herbs to relieve boredom in the kitchen.

Please note: As many of our recipes dates from pre-computer days (meaning they are in files and files of hand written notes), I’m not including the ‘authors/creators’ of all these recipes. Because we simply collected recipes for our own purposes, never with the intention of sharing them with a wide audience, we did not always record the source. If I infringe your ‘copyright’ by not giving you credit please accept my apologies and please send me an email.

Parts used: We use the leaves fresh or dried; the flowers only fresh.

When to harvest: The leaves can be harvested at any time during the year. We pick the flowers and young flowering tops as flowering begins.

How to dry: Hang in a warm, dark, well ventilated place.

How to store: Fresh leaves and flowers – In tightly sealed plastic bags or ‘tupperware’ containers in the refrigerator. Dried leaves – In airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

Cooking tips: At first use small amounts of leaves (especially dried) in your dishes as the bitter, slightly minty (or camphor-like if you wish) flavour can easily overpower a dish. As you become used to the flavour you will increase the amounts naturally. We never use both the leaves and flowers to flavour the same dish as the stronger flavour of the leaves dominate that of the delicate flowers. The leaves stand up well to long cooking periods but we prefer to add it just before serving. Experiment a bit to find out what suits your taste buds.

Taste good with/in: Dried or fresh leaves – soups, stews, herbal teas. Fresh leaves – soft cheeses such as goat cheese and cottage cheese, flavoured butters, sandwiches, sauces, dips, hot or cold pasta dishes. Flowers – green salads.

Herb Blends: Mostly used on its own but we often combine it with one or more of the following: chervil (my favourite combo), chives, parsley, bay, basil and sage (especially in fatty dishes, but be careful as both can overpower). Tip: Both hyssop and sage aids digestion of fatty fish and meat.

Historical uses: Hyssop is frequently mentioned in the Bible, from Moses to John the Baptist. It was also venerated by the Arabs. The ancient Greeks boiled it with rue and honey, and used it as a cough remedy. Much used as a medicinal herb. Also used to flavour liqueurs, such as the well known Chartreuse. A wine called hyssopites, made from hyssop was mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny (first century AD).

Hyssop Recipes

Glazed Carrots with Hyssop

Here’s one way I can easily convince my dear wife, who’s not too fond of carrots, to eat carrots. She loves chicken though, so its sort of a compromise.

About 500g young carrots, scraped and thinly sliced; 1 cup chicken stock; 1 tbsp honey; 1 tbsp unsalted butter; 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh hyssop leaves; salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.

In a saucepan, combine the carrots, stock, honey, butter and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender and the liquid is a syrupy glaze, about 20 minutes or so. Be careful that it does not burn. Toss the carrots with hyssop and serve immediately.

If you don’t want to ‘ruin’ 500g carrots, try this tester: 2 large carrots thinly sliced, 1 tbsp water (or chicken stock), 1 tbsp butter, 1 tsp honey or brown sugar, 1 tsp finely chopped hyssop. Proceed as above. This needs only about 10 minutes to cook, but beware, it burns very easily.

Corned Beef, Cheese and Hyssop Spread

My national service days cured me from eating any Corned Beef, unfortunately not so for the rest of our family. My biggest challenge in the early days of experimenting with herbs was to find ways to make Corned Beef edible – according to my taste buds anyway. This is one of my ‘favourites’. The original recipe called for 250g minced, cooked ham, but I’ve never tried that.

1 tin minced Bull Brand Bully Beef (but any brand will do), remember to put the excess fat on the bird feeder for the insect eating birds; 3/4 cup cottage cheese (or a cream cheese, I’ve even used grated cheddar), 1/2 cup soft unsalted butter; 2 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; salt and pepper.

Combine all ingredients, blend well, add seasoning to taste. Place in a serving dish and chill before serving with crackers or toast.

Meat Balls with Hyssop

My mom makes the most divine meat balls, and I’ve ruined, and devoured, a couple of beef herds trying to improve her recipe. Admittedly, without success, but this one comes close. It also makes an exceptional pure beef hamburger patty.

250g minced meat; 1 minced onion; 1 beaten egg; 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley (preferably Italian parsley); 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; salt and pepper; seasoned flour; oil for frying.

Combine minced meat and onion, mix in herbs and season to taste. Stir in beaten egg and mix well. Form into small balls, roll in seasoned flour, fry quickly in very hot oil, turning to brown them on all sides. Reduce the heat and cook them a little longer if they are not cooked in the middle.

Chicken with Hyssop

Next time you stuff a roasting chicken with your favourite stuffing substitute the herbs you usually use with 2 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop. While the chicken is roasting baste it with its own fat or 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter and a little lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1 tsp finely chopped hyssop.

We are not too fond of stuffed chicken. We simply put a sprig of hyssop in the cavity of the un-stuffed chicken. To improve the flavour we add a knob of butter and some thinly peeled lemon rind.

Cauliflower and Hyssop Salad

Hyssop adds a new dimension to salads and its a wonderful way of benefiting from all those wonderful health building properties of fresh greenies and hyssop.

2 cups thinly sliced, raw cauliflower; 1 diced red apple; 1 1/2 cups plain yoghurt; 2-4 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; 1 tsp salt; 1 tbsp lemon juice (or your own home-made herb vinegar).

Mix cauliflower and apple together in a salad bowl. Combine other ingredients in a basin, mix well, pour over cauliflower and apple mix. Toss and chill before serving. Garnish with hyssop flowers or hyssop sprigs.

Recipe Variations: All the above recipes lend themselves to endless variations. For starters substitute the hyssop with any of your favourite herbs. Next try some of the bouquet garni’s above or just use your imagination to create your own. Using herbs, “Aagh no mom, not meatballs (or whatever) again!”, becomes a phrase expressed before the first bite, not after.

Queen Elizabeth’s Cordial Electuary of Hyssop

Her Highness’s original recipe called for some ingredients that’s quite hard to obtain on short notice, and quite expensive. After some experimenting (it took exactly 22 batches), I’m convinced that she won’t know the difference. This licorice flavored remedy, soothes sore throats, relieves cough, does wonders for an upset stomach and helps shortness of breath. You can take a tablespoon 1-3 times a day. Please read the cautions for using hyssop in medicinal dosages in last weeks newsletter.

2 tbsp dried hyssop (preferably flowering tops) or 1/3 cup fresh hyssop (chopped flowering tops); 1/4 cup water; 1 cup honey; 1 tsp aniseed; a pinch each ground pepper and ground ginger.

In a saucepan combine honey and water. Stir until the mixture is consistency of pancake syrup. Bring slowly to a boil (over a medium heat). Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. If using dried hyssop, use 1-2 tbsp water to moisten the dried material. Crush the aniseed. Stir both into the honey. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Add a small pinch of ground pepper and a small pinch of ground ginger. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and allow to cool. While the mixture is still a little warm, strain into a sterilized jar. When completely cooled, screw on the lid. Keep in the refrigerator for not more than one week.

Hyssop Air Freshener

If you have a aromatherapy oil burner take a good handful of fresh hyssop, or 1 heaped tablespoon of dried hyssop and bring it to boil in a pan of water. Pour into a your aromatherapy oil burner. . You need to watch this as the water evaporates quicker than oil. So keep on replenishing. This keeps the air sweet and healthy.

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15 Borage Recipes and Serving Ideas

borage and cucumber salad
Borage and cucumber is a match made in heaven. But there’s a lot more you can do with borage.

Beverages and Drinks with Borage

To flavour a glass of tomato juice or cocktail add 1 tablespoon minced young borage leaves. Add borage flowers when serving alcoholic drinks and fruit drinks. Especially good with a claret cup. Add borage leaves and flowers to hot or iced tea or lemonade.

Borage Wine Cup
Makes about 2 liter
125ml brandy
30ml castor sugar
750ml bottle dry white wine
125ml orange juice
250ml crushed ice
750ml bottle pink champagne
250ml lemonade
250ml ginger ale
250ml chopped fresh borage leaves
Borage flowers to garnish (optional)

  1. Blend brandy, sugar, wine, juice and ice until combined.
  2. Combine champagne, lemonade, ginger ale, borage and wine mixture in large bowl just before serving.
  3. Decorate with borage flowers.

Borage Ice Blocks
Half fill ice block trays with cold water and freeze solid. Remove from freezer and tip out the half blocks. Put a borage flower into each division, replace the half blocks and top them up with water. The flower is then trapped between the water and the ice. When the tray is returned to the freezer the borage flower will be set in the middle of the ice block. Otherwise the flowers tend to float to the top.

Borage-Flavoured Lemonade
¼ cup lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons sugar
3-4 medium-sized borage leaves
2 cups water

  1. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a tall glass, and garnish with borage flowers.

Strawberry and Borage Cocktail
4-5 borage leaves
250ml dry vermouth
450ml orange juice
450ml soda water
450ml ginger ale
1 lemon thinly sliced
1 punnet small strawberries

  1. Lightly crush borage with mortar and pestle.
  2. Place in a large punch bowl and add all other ingredients, except strawberries; chill.
  3. Clean and prepare strawberries and float in a punch bowl just before serving.

Get more herbal beverage recipes…

Desserts with Borage

To Candy Borage Flowers
Pick the borage flowers, each with a small stem, when they are quite dry. Paint each one with lightly beaten egg white, using a water colour paintbrush. Dust them lightly with castor sugar and set to dry on waxed paper in a warm place like an airing cupboard or in a very cool oven.

Tropical Fruit Salad with Lime Syrup
Make a mixture of fruit e.g. Passion fruit, kiwi fruit, pineapple, selection of berries, paw paw, melon, water melon. Combine fruit in a large bowl. Add lime syrup, toss gently to combine, cover, refrigerate for several hours, even overnight.

Lime Syrup
125 ml lime juice
125 ml sugar
60 ml chopped fresh borage leaves

  1. Combine juice and sugar in small saucepan, stir over heat without boiling, until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer, uncovered without stirring for 5 minutes, cool.
  3. Stir in borage.

Preserves with Borage

Add flowers to herbal vinegar as a dye and for a slight cucumber flavour.

Borage Jelly
A great spread with cream cheese and crackers.

6 cups borage leaves and flowers parts soaked in a 4 cups of cold water overnight, drain
4 cups of borage infused water
4 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon
1 pack commercial pectin
a pinch of salt and red pepper

  1. Cook according to commercial pectin direction.
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Salads with Borage

Red, White and Blue Salad
1 medium cucumber
3 medium vine ripened tomatoes
¾ cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon course black pepper
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped dill leaves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon finely grated red onion
salt to taste
borage flowers togarnish

  1. Combine all the ingredients except for the tomatoes and flowers.
  2. Slice tomatoes and arrange them, overlapping, around the edge of a serving platter.
  3. Mound the cucumber mixture in the center of the platter, just covering the inner edge of the tomatoes.
  4. Chill well, and place the borage flowers decoratively on the salad just before serving.
    Serves 4 to 6

Mixed Herb Salad (La Salade de Plusieurs Herbes)
Adapted from a 16th century French translation of a book originally written in Latin in 1474.

2 heads lettuce
1 handful young, tender borage leaves
1 handful chopped fresh mint leaves
1 handful fresh lemon-balm leaves
1 handful tender fennel shoots and flowers
1 handful fresh chervil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon oregano or marjoram flowers and leaves
salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

  1. Wash the lettuce and herbs well, dry them and place them in a large dish.
  2. Sprinkle with salt, add the oil and finally the vinegar.
  3. Let the salad stand a while before serving.
  4. Eat the salad heartily, crunching and chewing well.
    To serve 6

Borage and Cucumbers
3 large cucumbers
200ml sour cream
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon celery seed
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh, young borage leaves (chopped finely)

  1. Slice the cucumbers thinly. Salt lightly and set aside in a colander for 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients, add the cucumbers to the mixture, and toss lightly.
  3. Garnish with borage blossoms.
  4. Chill for one hour before serving.

Get more salad recipes featuring herbs…

Sauces with Borage

Cucumber Sauce
Serve with fish salads, fried seafood and green salads

1 cucumber
2 shallots
5 ml soy sauce
salt and pepper
10 ml lemon juice
5 ml orange or lemon rind
5 ml made mustard
a dash of cayenne
20 ml chopped borage leaves
125 ml mayonnaise

  1. Grate the cucumber and shallots. Add all other ingredients and blend in electric blender.Makes ± 375 ml

Frankfurter Gruene Sauce (Frankfurter Green Sauce)
3 cups mixed herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, borage, dill, spinach greens, watercress, tarragon, basil, pimpernel)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 small onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese (pressed through a fine sieve in order to smooth curds)
ground white pepper
small pinch of sugar
1 to 2 eggs, hardboiled and coarsely chopped

  1. Choose all or merely a selection of the herbs and greens mentioned in the list of ingredients (using the tarragon more sparingly than the others). Wash them thoroughly and drain on paper towels.
  2. Coarsely chop the greens; loosely packed, they should amount to about 3 cups altogether.
  3. Take 2 cups of the greens, combine with the sour cream or yogurt and the onions, and puree in the blender or processor; add a few tablespoons of cream if it doesn’t seem to be fluid enough.
  4. The rest of the greens should just be finely chopped and stirred in a mixing bowl with the puree in order to give the sauce a little bite.
  5. Stir in as much mayonnaise and low-fat cottage cheese as it takes to produce a smooth, creamy sauce.

Season with salt, pepper, and a little sugar. The hardboiled eggs can either be mixed in with the sauce or strewn over it as a garnish.
Makes 2 to 3 cups

Get more sauce recipes featuring herbs…

Soups with Borage

Add one tablespoon young freshly chopped leaves to every 4 cups beet, cabbage, green pea or spinach soup

Acquacotta di Verdure – Cooked Water with Greens
Acquacotta literally means cooked water. It is generally served as a one coarse meal and in the past was eaten by shepherds and stockmen. There are as many versions as there are cooks.

A loaf of day-old Italian bread
1 cup potatoes, peeled and cubed
500 g ripe tomatoes, chopped (and peeled, if you like)
500 g spinach washed and coarsely chopped
500 g vegetables such as peas, beans, bell peppers or whatever else is in season
Bouquet garni of minced borage, marjoram, thyme, parsley
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Fill a fairly large pot ¾ full of water and add the vegetables and herbs. Season with a little salt and cook for about 40 minutes.
  2. When the vegetables have finished cooking, cut the bread into thick slices. Dip each in the pot, let it drain, and put it in a bowl.
  3. Spoon some vegetables and a bit of the vegetable broth over the slices, drizzle some olive oil over them, and serve them with freshly ground pepper.

Get more soup recipes featuring herbs…

Vegetables with Borage

Borage flowers makes an attractive edible garnish and may be added to any green or fruit salad to taste. Young finely chopped borage leaves may be added to any green salad, but do not add too much because of their hairy texture. Especially good with beans, green peas and spinach.

Borage Leaves as a Vegetable
Wash young borage leaves and remove stalks. Chop finely and cook in a little butter in a covered saucepan over a very low heat. Season to taste. The dampness of the washed leaves should be enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom; they should soon be tender and their hairy texture disappears when cooked.

Try to combine the borage leaves with cabbage or spinach using about one-third borage leaves to two-thirds cabbage or spinach and cook in the same way.

It is makes a great ‘marog’.

Borage Fritters
250 ml flour
8 ml baking powder
salt
125 ml milk
1 beaten egg
125 ml – 250 ml cooked, chopped borage leaves
15 ml grated onion
oil or butter to fry

  1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a basin.
  2. Make a well in the centre and stir in combined milk and egg to make a stiff batter.
  3. Add chopped, cooked borage leaves and grated onion.
  4. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the mixture in tablespoons, turning to brown both sides.
  5. Drain on brown paper and eat hot with mashed potatoes and grilled tomatoes.
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How To Grow and Use Sweet Basil

photo of sweet basil leaves
Sweet basil (or Basil to his friends) is the undisputed king of the culinary herbs.

Sweet basil, also known as basilie and basiliekruid, originated in India, where it is regarded as a herb sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. It is thought to protect against evil and every Hindu is buried with a leaf of basil – a tulasi – on his or her breast.

How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking

Best used fresh (dried basil does not have the same flavour, a minty taste predominates), sweet basil has a pungent, aromatic and spicy flavour that resembles cloves. It’s an outstanding choice as a home cuisine herb and you can never have too many sweet basil plants growing in your garden.

Sweet basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce. You can also add sweet basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta and pasta sauces and salads. It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.

Always add it just before serving to cooked dishes as its flavour diminishes with cooking. Pound it with a bit of olive oil or tear it with the fingers, rather than chopping it. Sweet basil combines well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage.

How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy

Sweet basil is used extensively in aromatherapy for ailments such as stress, migraine, colds and hay fever. It has antispasmodic, appetizing, carminative, galactagogue and stomachic properties. It is quite effective for tension headaches, exhaustion and digestive upsets such as stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and enteritis.

Make an infusion by adding 2 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1/2 cup boiling-hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink hot. Take three times a day.

Sweet basil is also used in flower therapy for those who tend to separate spirituality from sexuality, believing the two cannot be integrated.

Traditionally the dried leaves were pounded and, taken as snuff, used as a remedy for colds.

How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care

You can make an invigorating beauty bath by adding a strong infusion of fresh basil leaves to your bath. Use 1 cup chopped basil leaves in 2 cups boiling-hot water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Then add to bath.How To Use Sweet Basil as a Companion Plant

Sweet Basil is a most beneficial companion for your other plants. In particular it enhances the flavour of summer savory and it helps tomatoes to grow larger and more flavoursome.

It’s a good insect repellant for white fly, aphids and fruit fly. A pot of basil, set on a windowsill near an open window, will prevent flies from entering the room through the window.

Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘… something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another.’ – but in our experience they are quite happy bedfellows.

You can set pots on windowsills and in open doorways to deter flies, or you can add a few leaves to the barbeque fire to deter moths. You can also grow it as an attractive pot plant for the patio.

How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is a tender annual that grows about 40-60cm high. It prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position. Protect your sweet basil against cold winds and frost. Space the plants about 30cm apart and pinch out the growing tips and flower heads to encourage a bushy habit.

Sweet Basil is propagated from seed and young plants can be purchased from nurseries to plant in your herb garden.

Harvesting and Preserving Your Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil is such a vigorous herb that you’ll always have an abundant harvest to share with others.

Don’t try to dry your sweet basil as the flavour is not the same as fresh basil. You can keep the leaves briefly in plastic bags in the refrigerator or you can preserve them in olive oil or vinegar. To freeze you can puree the leaves with a little water and freeze them in ice cube trays or you can cover both sides with olive oil and freeze them whole.

Purple Splash Basil Vinegar

Definitely one of our favourite basil preservation recipes. Not only because it is a lovely pink, but because the vinegar preserves the flavour of the basil exceptionally as well. We use purple splash in our marinades, salads, stir fries and home-made mustards.

For the bathroom we make it with apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse and to add to the bath water. It restores the natural acid mantle of the skin and hair and is exceptionally good for dry, itchy skin – traditional winter skin.

Learn how to make your own herbal vinegar.

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How To Make Your Own Herb and Spice Blends

Making your own herb and spice blends is the ultimate in culinary adventure. With a mere handful of different herbs, spices and other flavourings you can create a nearly endless variety of healthy gourmet dishes.

Your aim in making a blend should be to produce a balanced, complex flavour that makes your diners want to take another bite, not analyze it.

You will soon find that by simply using one or two herbs and spices you won’t be able to achieve this aim. You will, most likely, be using three or four herbs, plus a spice or two, resulting in greater depth to your finished dishes.

How do you formulate blends?

The easiest way to start is to copy classic recipes. These have endured the test of time because they work. And making them to perfection comes with automatic bragging rights.

“Classic dishes typically consist of combinations – of flavours, textures, even aromas and colour – that history has been hard-pressed to offer improvements upon. Their having stood the test of time speaks to the elegance of their form, in combining flavours harmoniously but, in many cases, synergistically, such that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the individual parts” – Dornenburg and Page.

How To Deconstruct the Classic Herb and Spice Blends

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you study the classic herb and spice blends a good learning tool is to deconstruct the recipe. This will deepen your understanding and appreciation of why these blends have stood the test of time. And it allows you to develop your savoir faire for creating your own blends.

When we deconstruct a recipe we build it up ingredient by ingredient, technique by technique, tasting at each step to determine how the ingredient/technique contribute to the recipe. Doing this with most herb and spice blends is very easy as no cooking is involved.

Let me give you an example…

Fines Herbes is a fresh herb blend consisting of equal proportions of finely chopped parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon. When deconstructing the recipe you start with a simple blend of say parsley and chives (assuming you know how both taste and smell on their own).

Taste and smell the parsley and chive blend then blend in the chervil. Taste and smell. Then blend in the tarragon. Taste and smell. Is the whole indeed greater than the sum of the parts?

A Basic Blending Formula

Once you’ve tried and mastered the classic recipes you’ll have the skill and flair to adapt them to suit your own palate.

“Mastering the classics doesn’t mean doing the same things the same way they’ve always been done – it means making them exactly right for you today. There’s genius in those classic dishes that isn’t always appreciated.” – Rick Bayless chef-owner of Frontera Grill in Chicago.

Formulating your own blends is easier than most people think. What’s more, it is a wonderful creative outlet. Start by tweaking the proportions of any classic or add or omit one or two ingredients. I also like to make traditional dry blends with as many fresh herbs as is possible.

Finding the correct proportions can sometimes be a challenge, but over the years we’ve develop a loose proportion guide which you can try when you start making a new blend from scratch. It looks as follows:

  • Fusion herbs – 6 parts in total
  • Mild herbs – 4 parts in total
  • Robust herbs and spices – 2 parts in total
  • Other flavourings – 1 part in total

Remember that the proportions of the different herbs and spices in a blend will determine the character of the blend. Equal parts of both mild and robust herbs for example will result in the robust ones masking the mild one

Recipe 1: Dried Barbecue Spice Blend

Say you are going camping and you would like to make a dried general use Barbecue Spice Mix to take along.

Starting with the fusion herbs you know that most of them don’t retain their flavour well when dried. So you can safely omit the fusion herbs in this recipe or you can say “what the heck – lets use them anyway.” You only have dried Italian Parsley and, heaven forgive, some dried chives on hand. So you decide on 4 parts Italian Parsley and 2 parts chives. Giving you a total of 6 parts fusion herbs.

As you can see this is where the endless variations start. You could just as well have tried 5 parts and 1 part, or you could have used more chives and less Italian Parsley. Just ensure that you “roughly” use 6 parts in total.

You can use any measure for measuring out a part. It can be a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup or a wheelbarrow. It depends on the final quantity you want to make. Just don’t change your measure during the recipe.

Next comes your mild herbs of which you need 4 parts in total. You decide on 2 parts marjoram and 2 parts lemon thyme.

For the robust herbs you decide on adding 1 part winter savory and 1 part rosemary to the mixing bowl . Making 2 parts in total.

You want the mix to have a bit of a bite so for the “other flavourings” you add ½ part black peppercorns and ½ part dried chillies. Making up 1 part in total.

Your resulting recipe thus looks as follows:

  • Fusion herbs – 4 parts Italian Parsley and 2 parts chives = 6 parts
  • Mild herbs – 2 parts marjoram and 2 parts lemon thyme = 4 parts
  • Robust herbs – 1 part winter savory and 1 part rosemary = 2 parts
  • Other – ½ part black pepper and ½ part chilli = 1 part

After mixing the ingredients thoroughly you grind it using a mortar and pestle, or an electric grinder, which allows you to put it into a shaker.

Next you have a taste. It lacks a bit bite and “body”, so you add another pinch of chilli, a little bit of herb salt and a dash of brown sugar. Mix again, taste. Perfect.

Recipe 2: Fresh Barbecue Spice Blend

For our next example let us pretend that somebody did not like your idea of making a dried mix to take along on your trip.

Fresh is always best and they insist on having a fresh Barbecue Spice blend. You duly oblige.

  • Fusion herbs – 3 parts parsley, 2 parts garlic chives and 1 part bay leaves
  • Mild herbs – 2 parts basil, 1 part cilantro and 1 part lemon thyme
  • Robust herbs – 2 parts oregano
  • Other – ¼ part garlic, ¼ part pepper, ½ part fresh chilli and some lemon zest for extra measure.

You combine all the ingredients in a food processor and chop them evenly.

Next you start adding olive oil teaspoon by teaspoon and continue chopping till you have a smooth paste.

Taste. Perfect.

If you stored this in a small sterilised airtight jar it should keep for up to 2 weeks in your camping refrigerator.

Now it’s your turn.

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3 Guiding Principles when Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Basket with freshly harvested herbs and spices.
Your primary aim when cooking with herbs and spices is to highlight certain flavours and to create new ones. As with anything, there are some exceptions. Photo Copyright iStockPhoto

When cooking with herbs and spices, as with all else in life, there are principles you can follow that will guarantee your success. The three you’ll discover below are the most important ones and when ignored they have ruined many a dish.

Principle #1: Herbs and Spices Must Compliment Your Main Ingredients

Your primary aim when cooking with herbs and spices is to highlight certain flavours and to create new ones. As with anything, there are some exceptions. But generally speaking, herbs and spices are meant to compliment a dish, not overwhelm it.

That being said, be careful of using too small amounts of herbs and spices in your cooking. If you can’t taste the difference, you’re just wasting your time, money and effort.

You need to find just the right amount to use, i.e. the right balance.

To achieve this, learn to use the ‘Salt Principle’. From your own experience you will know that once you have added salt to a dish, you can’t remove it. The same goes for herbs and especially spices.

Rather add just a touch of herbs/spices and allow the flavours to develop. Taste and add more if needed.

If it is your first attempt at cooking with a specific herb/spice, rather halve the amounts asked for in the recipe and apply the ‘Salt Principle’. It is preferable to err on the side of caution rather than overdoing it.

Remember that it is very easy to spoil a dish when using dried herbs and when using spices. However, when you make the switch from dried herbs to fresh herbs, keep the ‘Salt Principle’ in mind.

Tip: If you want to replace the fresh herbs in a recipe with dried herbs, use the following guideline:

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs =

1 teaspoon crushed dried herbs =

¼ teaspoon powdered dried herbs.

Principle #2: Use Tried and Tested Combinations

It is logical that not all herbs and spices go together well. For some reason, though, many people (including some writers) seem to believe that you can add them willy-nilly to any dish and expect a good result. They seem to believe that ‘what doesn’t kill you must be good for you!’

The only solution to this common error is to learn which herbs and spices complement each other and which herbs suit which type of dishes. But that is just the start. You will also need to learn how much of a herb or spice to add if you want to ensure a balanced dish.

Where will you learn all this?

Download a copy of our Feast on Flavour guidebook.  It features more than 1 300 tried and tested flavour combinations.

Principle #3: Manage Your Team Members

This principle of cooking with herbs and spices goes hand-in-hand with the previous principle. But where the previous refers to the combinations of herbs and spices you can use, this one refers to how and when you use your herbs and spices in the cooking process.

It’s not enough to simply know that dill goes well with beetroot. You also need to know how much dill to use and when to add it.

Example: Listen to the experience of my good friend Anton. He makes a really top class Oxtail Potjie. Two of the ingredients he adds at the start are parsley and sweet basil. I explained to him (very diplomatically) that both herbs lose their flavour when they are cooked for long periods and suggested that he should try Italian Parsley – which can handle the longer cooking times – and that he should add even more of both just before serving, to add some impact.

What a gastronomical result! Achieved just by using the different ‘players’ more effectively.

Fortunately information on when to add herbs and spices to a recipe is readily available. See my post on 3 Handy Flavour Building Cheat Sheets.

If you are unsure about when to add a specific herb or spice, rather add it towards the end of the cooking process, than at the beginning.

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Tips for Buying and Storing Herbs and Spices

“When you are selecting herbs and spices for your own pantry, there is no better way to judge character than with your senses of taste and smell. Buying spices and herbs should be a tactile experience, not just pulling a jar from a shelf.” – Tony Hill author of The Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices

herbs and spices at the marketBuying Dried Herbs and Spices

You can readily buy dried herbs and spices at your local supermarket, fruit and vegetable shop or butcher. It is preferable that you purchase whole products (like the leaves, seeds, bark etc.) rather than the crushed form. Although it is a little more trouble to crush these whole products, the effort will be worth it in the final tasting.

Dried herbs and spices should be as fresh as possible. Once they become old and stale, they can easily ruin a dish.

Don’t buy large quantities. Buy only what you will use within 6 months or less.

If you grow your own herbs, you can also dry them for your own use.

Buying Fresh Herbs and Spices

You can purchase fresh herbs at your supermarket or green grocer, or you can grow your own, or you can get some from a friend who gardens.

When you shop for fresh herbs, watch out for leaves that are wilted, discoloured (yellow) or covered in black speckles. These are all signs that these herbs are not very fresh, and may be past their prime.

Remember to only purchase fresh herbs when you need them, and store them in the fridge in a clean plastic container or plastic zip packets. Beware of buying more than you will be able to use immediately.

Growing your own, even if it is just one or two herbs is a rewarding experience.

Storing Dried Herbs and Spices

The enemies of dried herbs and spices are light, air, moisture and heat. The best place to store them would be in airtight, dark containers in a cool place. Above your stove is definitely not a cool place, just as under the washing up sink in not a dry place!

Rather keep that beautiful spice rack (the one your mother-in-law gave you on your first wedding anniversary!) at a convenient height in the food cupboard. That’s after you have disposed of those ancient bottles that used to clutter it. And by the way…maybe the spice rack was a subtle hint from your mother-in-law that your cooking is dull and bland?

Dried herbs and ground spices can keep for up to a year, if they are stored correctly. Whole spices can keep for up to two years. After this, you should rather throw them away and replace them with fresh ones. Label the bottles clearly with the date when they should be thrown away.

Your fresh herbs will also lose their flavour and wholesome qualities soon after they have been harvested. Rather use them as soon as possible after harvesting, or if you need to, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How does your current storage space compare with the above? Is it suitable for storing your herbs and spices? Where will be a better place?