Fresh herbs are one of the most straightforward and effective ways of elevating simple home cooking into something notable, and I cook with them almost daily.
A few snips of chives on scrambled eggs, a shower of torn basil on tomato salads, sprigs of rosemary in the sauté pan for a steak, and a pinch of chopped parsley for the anchovy butter to top it. And let’s not forget a fragrant peppermint stem, gently bruised to release its oils, as a garnish for my G&T.
I grow herbs on my deck, just a step from my kitchen door, so it’s easy to cook this way for much of the year. Rosemary and thyme stick with me throughout the calendar, and every spring I plant an assortment of those that don’t survive the winter.
The line-up usually includes chives, tarragon, dill, marjoram, savoury, some oreganos, mints, a few types of basil and boatloads of cilantro and parsley.
When I encounter something unique, such as Cuban oregano, chervil or salad burnet, I give it a try, and if I end up using it throughout the season, it becomes one of the regulars, too.
For just a few rand and a couple hours of investment, I have a supply of vivacious herbs ready to snip at will.
But in the off-season - or if you don’t have your own garden - a desire to cook with fresh herbs can cause some supply-and-demand conflicts. Most of the time you’re buying a bunch but perhaps using only a few sprigs. What do you do with the rest?
Fortunately, solving the waste problem can bring joy and deliciousness.
The key is to think of herbs, particularly the tender ones, not as accents used in mere tablespoons but rather as star players tossed in by fistfuls and cupfuls.
Think of them as leafy greens and use them abundantly, and with abandon.
As opposed to the hardy, tough herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram and sage (which, in my opinion, are good when cooked with food, not eaten raw), the tender herbs are just that: leafy, tender, milder (though full of flavour and fragrance, which is why we adore them), easy and delicious to eat raw or cooked.
The most versatile include parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, dill, tarragon, chives, with less familiar members including chervil, lemon verbena and lovage, among others.