Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

As a student of nutrition for 4 years in Dublin I sought out a fitting place to work – Cafe Fresh in the Powerscourt Townhouse.  It’s a vegetarian/vegan/wholefood restaurant run by Mary Farrell.  Mary was good to us there and staff lunches were by far the healthiest fare in Dublin.  My dingy flat diet was mainly lentil soup/stew; with fish, mashed potato and broccoli on a splash out day.  Cafe Fresh provided welcome variety and some great recipes that I still use.  They served a lovely organic roast beetroot, mushroom and shallot salad.  This version is inspired by that and is a real earthy dish for November.

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

Serves 1 for lunch or 2 as side-salad for dinner

1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp butter

2 egg-sized fresh beetroot, boiled until tender

3 flat mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 leek, roughly chopped

sea salt

1/2 tsp English mustard

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/2 tsp dried marjoram

sea salt & black pepper

toasted seeds to garnish

Heat the butter and rapeseed oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and season with salt – cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, thyme and marjoram and another pinch of salt and continue cooking until the mushrooms are just tender.

Peel the beets and slice them into wedges.  Stir the warm beets, mustard, black pepper and balsamic vinegar into the mushroom/leek mix off the heat.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve with toasted pumpkin & sunflower seeds on top.

This is good by itself but I ate it with beetroot cous-cous (yes, I am turning pink!).  I had some fresh beetroot juice leftover from my kids class (where we made beetroot icing for beetroot and chocolate muffins), which I brought to the boil and poured over dry cous-cous.  The cous-cous absorbed the colour and earthy flavour of the beet juice.



Preserving basil

We need some space in the tunnel so the basil had to come out.  There were two types of basil – the regular stuff and holy basil.  I set about preserving some of their summer flavour for the dark days ahead.

Holy Basil!

Very fragrant in a different way, holy basil smells a little like a slightly out of date body cream – weird I know but finding it really hard to describe!  Luckily it doesn’t taste like gone off cosmetics and is actually delicious thrown into a curry (especially coconut based) at the very end.  It’s no more difficult to grow than basil but does go to seed quite a bit sooner.  And it also goes very well with tomatoes.

Basil is not one of those herbs you dry – it retains no flavour this way (lack of oils).  I usually freeze basil pesto without the cheese and it works so thought why not just whizz up the basil with some oil and freeze?  It’s not space consuming and this method means you have little nuggets of intense basil oil to add to a dish.

For the regular basil blitz 2 handfuls of basil with 100ml olive oil and transfer to ice-cube trays.  For holy basil use rapeseed oil instead (not too mediterranean incase it’s for curry).

I put these in the freezer for a few hours, then emptied them out to store in a freezer bag and popped them back in the freezer for later use.

If anyone has a more eloquent description for the flavour of holy basil please share!!

Pickling Wild Garlic seed heads

Heading to the woods to pick the seed heads from the wild garlic has been on my to do list for a while!  Nature waits for no woman, but luckily I found them still intact today.  I’m thinking this would be better done sometime earlier (like 3 weeks ago) since they do feel a lot tougher and definitely ready to pop.  The flavour, however, is still definitely of garlic and green.  And I’m not willing to wait until next year to try this process that I first heard through twitter from chef Enda McEvoy and later found this brilliant post with great pictures on The Hunter Gatherer Cook: (

So these are what I picked.

What’s left to do is use a fork to pull the heads from the light stalks and in a jar, cover with infused vinegar (Hunter Gatherer used pine needle vinegar which I don’t seem to have…).  He recommends infusing with mustard seeds and rosemary.  Well, all my rosemary died with the frost and I’m not sure if I have any mustard seeds but I’m going to make a pickle – maybe with cider vinegar and a touch of honey.  Will let you know how this delicacy goes.

I’ve been gardening a little too so my Circles are starting to take shape, if not a little later this year than last.  I have beets, chard, rocket and other leaves in one.  Summer sprouting broccoli takes another and I’ve just put 3 courgette plants into a third.  Last night I left out a little treat for the slugs who really love hiding in the stones that make the surrounds of my circular beds.

Slug Trap

A lot of slugs were harmed in the making of this blog post – today I counted about 20 slugs in the beer trap.  Sorry guys but we have to eat greens too!  I just used an empty tuna tin buried flush with the soil and poured in some out of date ale.  It really was quite satisfying to finally catch up with the slugs.  I’m planning a few more slug parties around the garden.

Back in January, Hugo from Cafe Azteca in Dublin sent me on some seeds for tomatillo and epazote, which I promised to sow for him in the tunnel.  Tomatillos are difficult to get here and go into making the green salsa for real Mexican cuisine.  Epazote is a herb Hugo used to flavour a black bean soup he made at his Mexican cookery class here.  It has grown just fine after being started on a heated bench in the glass house.  I transplanted some in the tunnel and outside to see how it gets on.  It was the dried version Hugo used so I should be able to harvest and store if it goes well.  A very distinctive aroma and flavour that’s difficult to describe (I wrote this before looking up widipedia!) but apparently very dear to Mexican cooks.  I would say it has an almost metallic/chemical smell that reminds me of chlorine.  Weird I know, but here’s what widipedia has to say on the herb:

Epazote is used as a leaf vegetable and herb for its pungent flavor. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to anisefennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote’s fragrance is strong but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citruspetroleumsavorymint and camphor.


The tomatillos are really taking off since transplanted into the tunnel a couple of weeks ago.

Tomatillo tunnel

Going to try some wild garlic seeds with boiled baby beets for dinner.  Garlic and beetroot – a great combination.  Try it!

Drying Oregano & Marjoram

It seems that oregano and marjoram will retain some level of flavour by drying.  These vigorous plants I have in a bath outside my kitchen were crying out to be preserved.  As glorious as the weather is now, my thawing out body remembers well the 6 months of winter misery we’ve just temporarily left behind!  This over-supply of herbs needs to be managed!!

Golden Oregano (left) & Pot marjoram (right) ready for harvest

So I set about clipping them off fairly close to the base, but leaving good foliage for further growth.  I probably shouldn’t have washed them, but the marjoram seemed to have lots of aphids.  I then left it on clean tea-towels overnight to eliminate any moisture that might cause molding later on.

Marjoram drying off

The next move uncovers an undesirable trait, but must reveal it to ensure it doesn’t happen to you!  I was so eager to see results, I distributed the oregano between a few baking trays and placed them in the oven at the lowest setting.  I had been told, and read that oven drying should be a last resort!  My impatience is not a useful trait in the kitchen – or the garden!  The aroma of burnt oregano leaves will not enhance your home.

oven burnt oregano

So, next day with a bit more zen head I strung up bunches of marjoram.  These need to be covered in individual paper bags and left somewhere warm and dry until the leaves are fully dry.  Any moisture will cause mold.  Can’t wait to see what happens – shouldn’t be too long, maybe week or 2.

Marjoram string

Sowing herbs from scratch

This year I planted herb seeds – biennials and perennials.  My mother sows loads of basil and lemon basil  (which are both annual and best kept indoors in Ireland) every year.  Lucky us – basil really is the taste of summer and other basil flavours, such as lemon basil are amazing stirred into a thai curry at the end of cooking.

Unless you want tons of herbs for yourself or your business or you plan to give away established plants to friends and family, buying packets of individual herbs seeds can be a waste.  Especially if they’re perennial – where you’ll only sowing them once and you’ll have them in your garden for years.  So if you want herbs for your backyard to supply the kitchen, buying established plants is probably the most practical thing to do.

Varieties I sowed so far:

Flat-leaf parsley – this is supposed to have better flavour than the curly variety so I set about planning a decent supply of this biennial.  The seeds were slow to come up but are pretty sturdy once they did.  The seeds are small so I planted them in a shallow tray close together and transplanted to large pots when they were 1-2 inch high.  I started them indoors in the tunnel and glasshouse and am starting to harden them off now by leaving outdoors during the day and bringing in at night.

Chervil – again the seeds are small, so I planted them close together and transplanted (well my mother did – thank you!) to larger pots once they were 2 inches or so.  They germinate fairly quickly and seem to be pretty hardy.  I think it’s biennial also, so will probably plant some every year.  Chervil has an aniseedy flavour and is an ingredient in tartare sauce along with tarragon and parsley.  It’s good for fish.  These are hardening off at the moment and will be ready for outdoor beds next week.

Oregano and Marjoram – I only sowed a few of these, as I have plants outdoors that survived the winter pretty well and are very abundant at the moment.  Again, I started these indoors and have yet to harden them off.

Mint – Way too much! Let me know if you need any.  The seed is tiny so I planted lots of mint in a tray.  Mint is really quite easy to germinate from seed and as we know, will take over your garden later on if given an inch.  I’m buying some lovely pots for all my mint!

Coriander – I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been sprinkling coriander seed into a large pot every week or two in order to ensure a steady supply of  it.  It gets stalky and goes to seed easily.  Easy to germinate – comes up in a week or so.

Get your basil in

My mother came across a tub of basil pesto in the freezer, frozen in time since the end of last summer.  What a find!  It kept deliciously – that is without the addition of cheese before freezing.  To celebrate I’ve been eating plenty of it – today with just pasta and grated parmesan on top.  I thought it couldn’t get any better until I came across a glass of red wine at the end of a bottle.  A match made in heaven!  Get basil seeds in pronto or buy small plants for a sunny window, glass house or tunnel.  If you’ve lots of sunny space don’t skimp on planting and you can enjoy basil pesto anytime of year.

Rosemary & Fennel

I bought a rosemary and fennel plant for either end of the front-border garden.  They’re in now and hopefully won’t mind the crazy weather we’re having – hailstones, snow and heavy rain.  Come on Spring proper!!  I’ve also put in some seeds directly – 2 varieties of nasturtium at intervals along the front so they can tumble down over the large stones, poppies at either end, and red sorrel at a couple of points along the front .  Attractive and edible…..

Meanwhile, Eric’s ‘Sexy Curves’ are looking good as the pathway to the roundy gardens.  This place is going to be fab.