Fresh herbs are the essence of summer, bringing fragrances and flavours to salads and vegetables, mains and Mexican-style salsas as well as fruity dessert delights.
Coriander is known as cilantro or Chinese parsley in many countries. No part of the plant is wasted. Coriander leaves are popular in salads and salsas, the stems can be chopped for use in soups or meaty mains and the roots finely ground to flavour Asian dishes. The aromatic seeds can be dried - they are often crushed and combined with cumin in curries.
Mint is said to "have more uses than money". Its refreshing quality is excellent in drinks, savoury salads and sorbets. Add it to fresh fruit salads, pineapple or melon cubes or hot peas or carrots. Vietnamese mint (laksa leaf) has long pointy leaves and can be added - in moderation - to vegetable and fruit salads as well as Asian dishes.
Basil is one of the most popular summer herbs. Its aromatic leaves form the basis of traditional pesto. The various species of basil include bush basil, lettuce leaf, purple, sacred or holy, lemon and sweet basils. They add fragrance to Thai curries, green salads, soups, pasta and rice dishes, and are ideal with chicken, fish or red meats.
Chives are the most delicate member of the onion family and can be used in dishes that benefit from a light addition of onion. Chopped, they enhance scrambled eggs, omelettes, cream and cottage cheese, creamy sauces and soups. Uncut, they make fashionable garnishes as do their purple flowers.
Thyme is a year-round favourite and the essence of French cuisine. There are many varieties but lemon thyme is a wonderful complement to summer fruits and veges. Thyme's tiny leaves are easily removed from the stems by pulling the stems through your fingers from top to bottom, against the direction of the stems. Six average sprigs will yield about a tablespoon of leaves.
Delicious hot or cold.
1 cup each: coriander, basil, mint leaves
1 kaffir lime leaf, julienned and chopped
1-2 chillies, seeded and chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
500g lean minced pork
1/2 cup hot chilli sauce
Place the herbs, lime leaf and chillies in a food processor. Blend until well chopped. Add the pepper, egg and pork. Blend until evenly mixed.
Pack into an oiled 21cm x 10cm loaf pan. Spoon a little chilli sauce on top.
Either cook in a conventional oven at 180C for 50 minutes or cover with baking paper in the microwave on 60 per cent power for 8-10 minutes. (Choose a microwave-proof loaf pan, such as silicone.) The loaf will pull away from the sides when cooked.
Serve with extra chilli sauce. Serves 6-8
SQUID, LIME & CORIANDER SALAD
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coriander leaves
1 shallot, diced
1 tbsp each: finely grated root ginger, chopped chives, fish sauce
finely grated rind and juice 4 limes
500g squid rings
1/4 cup sliced bread and butter pickles
1/2 small red pepper, julienned
Combine all the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk well. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the squid rings, bring back to the boil quickly and blanch for 30 seconds, until just cooked and tender. Drain and add warm to the dressing. Cool. Place the squid and a little dressing on serving plates and top with the pickles and red pepper.
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light meal.
2 tbsp thyme leaves
2 small shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
8 Italian tomatoes or firm ripe tomatoes
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Combine the thyme, shallots, garlic and three tablespoons of olive oil. Stand one hour. Preheat the oven to 160C.
Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle with the remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 20 minutes. Carefully flip over and dot the thyme mixture over the top. Continue roasting for 15 to 20 minutes. Serves 4-6
STONE FRUIT IN LEMON THYME SYRUP
Peel the peaches before slicing. The syrup may be prepared ahead and refrigerated. Warm before using.
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup mild honey such as clover or blue borage
6 large sprigs lemon thyme
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2-3 each: nectarines, peaches, plums, sliced
3/4 cup creme fraiche
Garnish: small lemon thyme sprigs, finely grated lemon rind
Bring the water, lemon juice, honey and thyme to a boil on medium. Stir until the honey is dissolved.
Simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove from heat and cover. Stand for 15 minutes for the flavours to infuse. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on the thyme. Meanwhile, lightly toast the almonds.
Put the fruit in a shallow bowl and drizzle with the warm syrup.
Serve with creme fraiche and top with the toasted almonds. Garnish with additional thyme sprigs and finely grated lemon rind if preferred.