Cooking with herbs – lovage

Cooking with herbs – lovage

lovageWelcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the

Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

History: Pliny the older and Dioskurides already used this useful herbs to cure kidney and bladder diseases. However, in the Middle Ages this aromatic herb was seen as ‘plant of love’ and found its way into many  love potions.

How to grow and use it: Lovage is a perennial plant and grows over 2 meters tall. The leaves are large and almost triangular. Its flowers are greenish-yellow colour and they show up in late spring. These days lovage is a bit of a forgotten kitchen herb, but that is very undeserved, as its leaves add
a lot of flavour to soups, stews and dishes, making it easier to reduce the salt need to make the dish palatable.

In Germany it is called the ‘Maggi’ herb, named after the famous soup flavouring sauce, as it is one of its main ingredients. But it is not only the leaves that are so useful, the seeds can be used as a spice and the roots as a vegetable.

Recipes: 

Lovage root tea:
This tea is wonderful for everybody who suffers from gout, rheumatism, hot flushes and production of sweat. 
Chop up dried or fresh root (1 tsp) and add to a cup of hot water. Drink up to 2 teas a day, one in the morning and one in the evening,

Lovage bath essence:
Take 10 leaves and some roots add to one litre of cold water, slowly bring to the boil. Then add it to your full bath. Lovage as bath essence helps with female genial problems, reduces the production of sweat, soothes the nerves and helps to lose weight. 

Top tip: Freeze the leaves in summer and add a tsp of frozen lovage to soups and sauces over the winter time. 

Lovage and pumpkin pesto

This is a very seasonal dish and makes a great starter dip.  Chop up a handful of lovage leaves, add 50g of pumpkin seeds, 1 tbsp of ground parmesan and 120ml pumpkin seed oil (or virgin olive oil). It tastes great on toasted rye bread or with vegetables such as celery or raw carrots. 

 

 

Cooking with herbs – basil

Cooking with herbs – basil

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being.  To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Cooking with herbs - basilHistory:  Basil originates from India, where it was cultivated for cooking over 5000 years ago. Nowadays there are over 60 different types of basil. The word ‘basileus’ means ‘king’ and Basil is often referred to as ‘king of all herbs’. Its first ceremonial use was connected with the ancient festival ‘ the feast of the cross’, that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of the emperor St. Constantine.

How to grow and use it:  Basil is one of those herbs that grows easily on every window sill, providing it is not all day in direct sunlight. The rounded leaves have a waxy texture and are very aromatic. But should always used fresh as its taste is lost once it is cooked. The leaves are very delicate, so it is best to  cut them into a salad, etc.,  with kitchen scissors.

TIP: Did you know that Basil grown on your window sill does not only look good, but it will also ward off flying insects  as they don’t like its aromatic smell.
Once you have been bitten by an insect, an old remedy is to rub a fresh basil leave straight onto the bit, it will help with the itching sensation and sometimes can even help with the swelling.

Recipes:

Basil Oil

Ingredients: a handful of basil leaves, 250ml virgin olive oil 

It could not be simpler. Put the leaves into a dark glass bottle and add the olive oil. Leave overnight and use on salads or fresh tomatoes

Basil tea:
Use as tea for bloating and problem with digestion 

Ingredients:  put a handful of fresh basil leaves into a tea pot and infuse with 250ml of boiling water

Leave to steep for 10 minutes and drink in small sips. It helps with  bloating and helps with the digestion if you have eaten too much or too heavy food.

Pasta with home-made pesto and ‘Insalta Caprese’

Basil is probably best known for Italian cooking, with ‘Insalata Caprese’ and pesto being some of the all-time Italian classic dishes.

Home-made Pesto: 10 garlic cloves, 200g pine kennels, 40-50 fresh basil leaves (2-3 bunches), 1 tsp of sea salt, 6 tbsp of grated pecorino cheese or parmesan, 250ml olive oil

1)Peel garlic gloves and put together with pine kennels into a food processor

2) Add basil leaves and blend the mixture quickly together. But make sure that the mixture is not too fine, as pesto is not a mash, but a coarse mixture of herbs. Then remove the herb mixture from the blender into a side dish.

3) Put the rest of the ingredients into the food processor and blend them all together until they form a smooth paste. Finally add the smooth paste to the coarse herb mixture and seal in pots and jars.

These jars should last for a while, especially when you keep them cool. Then cook fresh pasta of your choice and add the pesto to it.

Insalata Caprese :  This is the typical Italian starter
6 medium tomatoes, rich and ripe, 300g fresh mozzarella, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 6 large basil leaves, 4 tbsp extra virgin oil, 1 tbsp. capers, salt and ground pepper

1) Wash and dry the tomatoes and slice them into 0.5cm (1/4 inch) slices. Then slice the mozzarella the same way.
2) Arrange on a platter one slice of tomato/mozzarella/tomato and so on, always slightly overlapping.
3) Sprinkle the oregano and capers on top. Then tear up the basil and scatter them on the platter and finally season with olive oil, salt and ground pepper

It is a very easy dish to prepare, but the secret is to make it fresh and to buy the best produce possible !

 

Cooking with herbs – chives

Cooking with herbs – chives

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being.  To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

History:  Chives are part of the leek family and related to onions and garlic. It has been grown in Europe for over 2000 years. The Ancient Greeks already used in in cooking and the Romans said to have used it to relieve sunburn, sore throat and to regulate blood pressure.

In Romania people hung bunches of chives from window sills and doors to ward off evil spirits and disease. Nowadays this tradition is still alive is still in popular culture where in films garlic is used to fight off vampires.

Chives contain essential oils that stimulate the digestion and help with the elimination process.

How to grow and use it: Chives are very easy to grow and can be cultivated in a small pot on a reasonably sunny window sill. It grows to about 30-45cm tall (12-20 inches). The stems are tubular and hollow and it is these that are mostly used in the kitchen. Chives produce pale purple flowers which attract bees, but interestingly due to its sulphur content is helps to keep most other insects out.

In the kitchen chives are used as seasoning in salad dressing and sauces or the raw herb can be chopped and sprinkled on cooked vegetables, especially potatoes and as topping on bread spreads.

cooking with herbs - chives

cooking with herbs – chives

Recipes:

Cream sauce with chives

This sauce works well as a compliment to steaks and fish dishes.

Ingredients: 2 pieces of white bread (crust removed), 250ml milk, 2 eggs (hard-boiled), 250ml creme fraiche or Greek Yoghurt, 100ml sunflower or rapeseed oil, 3 tbsp of chopped chives, salt & pepper

  • Boil the eggs until hard-boiled
  • Then put all the ingredients (except the chopped chives and seasoning) into a blender or food processor and mix until you get the consistency of a thick sauce
  • Finally add the chopped chives and salt and pepper and serve cold.

 

Salad with chive & yoghurt dressing

Ingredients:  For the salad (you can vary these according to your taste) : a small lettuce (washed), 1/2 cucumber (sliced), a handful of cherry tomatoes, 1 red/yellow or green pepper (cut into strips)

For the dressing: 250ml 1 % yoghurt, 2 tbsp creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp honey, a bunch of fresh chives (chopped), salt and pepper to season. 

  •   Prepare the salad in a big bowl
  • put all the ingredients for the dressing into one small bowl, mix together, season with salt and pepper and add to the salad just before serving.

 

Cooking with herbs-mint

Cooking with herbs-mint

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being.  To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Mint ( Mentha) 

Cooking with herbs - the mint

Cooking with herbs – the mint

The name ‘mint’ comes from the Greek nymph ‘Minthe’, who was transformed into a mint plant.

The mint plant has aromatic, oblong leaves and prefers to grow in a moist soil. There are many mint varieties, the majority have dark to pale green leaves, but some plants have purple, greyish  and even pale yellow leaves and white/purple flowers. Mint will grow 10 to 120 cm tall and has a tendency to spread. If you grow it at home, it is best to grow it in pots to avoid spreading too far.

The best-known varieties for cooking are peppermint, spearmint and apple mint and they are best used as freshly plucked leaves.
If you have more mint than you can use, you can store it for a few days in the fridge. Another option is to chop it up into small pieces and freeze it together with water as ice-cubes. These can be added to drinks.

In hot countries, a refreshing mint tea is served at most occasions, but particularly to seal a business deal or to welcome guests. But mint is also used in cold drinks and soups such as mojito (please find a recipe below) and pea & mint soup.

Here are a few summery recipes with mint, perfect for a BBQ or as outdoors meal.

Tzatziki Dip:
This is one of my all time favourite dips. I love it with pitta bread and particularly with grilled fish, meat and sea food (it works particularly well with grilled squid!). All these recipes below serve 4 people.

Ingredients: 3 tbsp extra virgin oil, 1/2 cucumber (i like it with peel, but you can also peel it) – diced, 115g (40z) plain yogurt – Greek style whole-milk works best, but you can also do it with less fatty varieties,
3 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh mint, 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 2-3 crushed garlic gloves, salt and pepper to taste.

1. It could not be simpler. Start with the yoghurt and add all the ingredients in and stir it all together, it takes only a few minutes! This dip will keep in the fridge for a few days.

If you want to find out more about the benefits of yoghurt, please read this post. 

Smoked aubergine and pepper salad:
This salad (together with the tzatziki) is a good mezze dish, best served on a hot summer’s day. It can be
prepared as main course or side dish. 

Ingredients for the salad: 2 medium aubergines (sliced into 1cm thick), round pieces, 2 red peppers (deseeded and halved), 6 tbsp extra olive oil, 2 pitta breads, 1 tbsp. freshly cracked or ground coriander – this is optional
Ingredients for the dressing: 4-5 garlic cloves, Juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tbsp), 5 tsp extra virgin oil, 4 tbsp of roughly chopped mint, 2 tbsp of treacle or honey, 1 tsp ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine the aubergine, red peppers, 4 tbsp. oil, salt and pepper. Either grill or cook them until soft (around 4-5 minutes on each side). Then put them back into the bowl.
2. Meanwhile chop the garlic into small pieces and brown in a separate pan.
3. Rub the pitta bread with the remaining 2 tbsp. oil and sprinkle the coriander on it. Then grill it until it is slightly charred and cut it into wedges.
4. Combine the browned garlic with all the other ingredients from the dressing section.
5. Finally pour the dressing over the grilled vegetables and serve together with the toasted pitta bread.

Watermelon mojito

This is a most refreshing summer drink. This version is with alcohol, but you can also change it into a non-alcoholic drink. In this case replace the rum by either more lemon/lime juice or replace it with elderflower juice.

Ingredients: 20 fresh min leaves (chop most of them, but leave a few for garnish),
2 tbsp chopped fresh watermelon (without seeds)
Juice of 1 lime (2 tbsp), 1 tbsp. granulated sugar, 60ml (2 fl oz) light rum, 90 ml (3fl oz) soda water

1. Put the watermelon, crushed mint leaves, lime juice and sugar in a tall glass and mass them together (or even better blend them shortly in a food processor) – until everything is well crushed. Fill a glass with ice cubes, pour in the rum and mashed mixture and top up with soda water. Finally garnish with a watermelon wedge and some mint leaves.

 

Cooking with herbs- oregano

Cooking with herbs- oregano

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being.  To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

This popular kitchen herb grows in the Mediterranean region. It is practically synomonous with the Italian kitchen, a pizza or pasta sauce without oregano does not taste the same. But it is also common place in the Turkish, Lebanese and other Mediterranean cuisines and it apart from Pizza it is also found in meat dishes and salads.

It is part of the mint family and grows from 20 to 80cm tall, has purple flowers and olive-green leaves. In colder climates Oregano needs to be grown under glass, as it does not survive a harsh winter.

When you want to use oregano in the kitchen, you need to use it as a dried herb, because the dried oregano has an aromatic, herby and slightly tangy taste and is much more potent than used as a fresh herb.

History: As far back as 400 B.C. the Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates already used oregano as an antiseptic and as cure for an upset stomach and problems with the respiratory system. Tests later revealed that oregano has antibacterial properties. It can also be used as a tea for nervous disorders and gastric problems.

But oregano is not only used as kitchen herb. Oregano oil has also health benefits, to find out more, please read this article from the Huffington Post. 

Here are a few recipes for cooking with oregano

Olive, onion and oregano bread:
Ingredients:
 1 large onion (finely chopped), 1 tbsp. olive oil, 2 cups of bread flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, 1 cup of low-fat buttermilk,2 tbsp. melted butter, 2 egg whites, ¼ cup of chopped, pitted Kalamata olives (or  any other olives), 1 tsp. of dried oregano.

  1. Pre-heat oven to around 180 degrees C, then heat the some butter in a pan and add the chopped onions and cook them until brown.
  2. In a bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt and oregano. Then make a dent in the middle. In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, butter, egg whites and oregano. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dent of the flour mixture and knead the mixture until you have a bread dough.
  3. Finally fold in the browned onions and chopped olives and fill the dough into a well-oiled bread tin.
  4. Bake for around 40minutes in the middle of the oven and leave to cool for another 10 minutes.
  5. Once cooled, release the bread. You can either eat it fresh or for more convenience, cut it into slices and keep them in the freezer.

Home-made pizza:

Ingredients for the dough: 250g of plain flour, ½ pack of dried yeast, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. of dried oregano, a small glass of lukewarm water.

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the water) into a large bowl and then add half of the water. Mix all the ingredients with your hands (please wash them before use!) to achieve a coherent dough. From time to time, add a bit more water until the mixture has become a gooey, solid dough. If you have added too much water, correct the consistency of the dough by adding more flour.
  2. Form a neat dough ball and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Leave the dough to rest and rise (at least 2 hours).
  3. Once the dough has risen, pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.
  4. Then take out 2 large cooking trays and add a few drops of oil that you can spread evenly all over the tray.
  5. Place the dough ball into the middle of the cooking tray and the slowly spread it outwards with your hands until you have an even thin dough base (there should be more dough on the outside to form a crust).
  6. Add a couple of tablespoons of tomato passata (pureed tomatoes) and garnish with your favorite ingredients. These can include ham, onions, tuna, prawns, pepperoni, artichokes and even Bolognaise sauce. Top with Morzarella strips and finally add another few pinches of oregano and olive oil.
  7. Bake in the oven for around 15 to 20 minutes and you have made your first home-made pizza!

I make this recipe regularly for my whole family and everybody has their own strip with their own favourite toppings. You can also make a few smaller, round pizzas and your children can then add their toppings of their own choice.