herbs for the holidays

7 Herbs for Holiday Entertaining

Whether your holiday season entertaining is going to be gourmet or casual, here are seven quite ordinary herbs for the holidays that can help you to produce extraordinary results. Sweet basil, dill, parsley, mint, chives, thyme and origanum are not generally associated with festive fare, but with food trends favouring gourmet burgers, artisanal popsicles and rainbow food, there is a shift away from the traditional sage-stuffed chicken or lamb with mint sauce. Instead we are talking fresh, fruity and plenty of green stuff (which includes herbs) for summer eating.

Cool for the pool

Artisanal food is a term that we hear a lot, and now it has been extended to popsicles (fruit ices). On hot days, especially at the beach or around the pool, there is nothing better. Artisanal popsicles are homemade ices combining fruit and herbs, like mint with watermelon or strawberry, basil with peach or mango, lemon thyme with grape, orange or pineapple, and dill with kiwi fruit. By using fresh fruit and natural sweeteners (honey) children can enjoy sweet treats without refined sugar.

To make Minty Watermelon Popsicles blend 2½ cups of diced watermelon, 1 tablespoon of mint leaves, 1½ cups coconut water, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 tablespoon honey. Pour the mix into ice-lolly moulds (available from Yuppiechef) and insert the popsicle sticks (keep in place with a piece of tape). Freeze for at least six hours or overnight.

Gourmet burgers and beer?

Who would have thought! Burgers are popular again, but with a difference. They have gone gourmet, to be enjoyed with friends and loads of craft beer. Here’s how to use herbs for the holidays in your burgers. Chop fresh thyme, dill, parsley and chives into the meat for an extra-tasty patty, or stuff a nugget of herb butter into the patty before cooking. Top with a tomato salsa (including chives, origanum and basil) or serve it on a bun spread with fresh tomato and sweet basil. To make four large patties mix 540g beef mince with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, a bunch of chopped spring onions, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 beaten egg, and season with salt and pepper. Cook the burgers for three minutes on either side on a grill pan or pan with oil.

Herbalicious salad

If you are tired of the traditional tomato, cucumber, onion and lettuce combo, use herbs to add bursts of flavour with salad greens, adding in nuts and fruit for a salty-sweet interplay of flavours. Flat-leaf parsley, torn mint leaves, chopped dill and snipped chives add a medley of flavours to any green salad. For a festive, sophisticated salad, toss in fresh or dried figs or chopped fresh dates for sweetness, and toast walnuts, macadamia or almonds for crunch. Finish off with a light dressing of wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning, top with shaved pecorino cheese and serve immediately.

Get fresh, fruity and herby

In December we are spoilt with an abundance of fruit, which can be combined with herbs in salads, used for dessert, or even grilled to intensify the flavour. Rainbow food is a gimmicky trend that produces food that generally looks less than appetising, except for gorgeous and yummy Rainbow Fruit Skewers.

On a skewer thread red (raspberry or strawberry), orange (melon or orange), yellow (pineapple or lemon), green (grape or kiwi fruit), blue (blueberry) and purple (grape) fruit. For extra flavour, alternate fresh mint and basil leaves between the fruit. It is a perfect entrée or snack that can be served on its own or with a herbed cheese dip. Yellow peaches are the epitome of summer, but have you thought of serving them as a savoury side?

How are we using herbs for the holidays here? Make a herb dressing of olive oil, chopped basil and thyme, salt and pepper and let the flavours mingle for about 15 minutes. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Brush the peach flesh with the herb/oil mix and grill flesh side down until they are softened and grill marks have appeared (about 4 minutes). Serve with smoked gammon or as an unusual accompaniment with the braai.

Are you bored with the thought of serving fruit salad, even though it is the quintessential summer dessert? Perk it up with a delicious sweet basil, mint, coconut milk and lime dressing. Whisk together 1/3 cup full-cream coconut milk/cream, 2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt, 6 leaves finely chopped basil and mint, and the zest of one lime. Spoon it over a tropical fruit mix of chopped kiwifruit, banana, grapes, blueberries, mango and anything else that tempts the taste buds. Drizzle over 2 teaspoons of honey and serve.

Now for something fishy

Fish on the braai or oven baked is always a treat, but the secret lies in the flavouring. Whether you are splashing out on salmon or using the local catch, add zest with a lemon-origanum marinade. Finely chop two large handfuls of origanum, add the juice and zest of three lemons, and whisk with 1½ tablespoons of olive oil and 1½ teaspoons of minced garlic. Let the flavours mingle for about 30 minutes, then marinate the fish for 15 – 20 minutes and grill, bake or braai. Another way to combine herbs with fish is to roast the fish with a mix of chopped dill, parsley and chives. Season the fish and flavour it with a drizzle olive oil and lemon, then coat both sides of the fish with the herb mixture. Pour wine around the fish and roast.

For the traditionalists here’s how to use herbs for the holidays

A leg or rack of lamb is the ultimate treat as the centrepiece of the festive feast. Smothering it with a herb crust takes flavour to another level. The timing is everything – for a leg of lamb the crust is added about 30 minutes before the end of cooking. For a rack of lamb, which requires less oven time, the crust is spread after the meat has been browned and then cooked on with the meat. Herb crust recipe: Mix 2 cloves chopped garlic, ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, ¼ cup chopped dill, 1 tablespoon mustard and 2 teaspoons crushed cumin seeds with 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Spread over the lamb. Serve with baby potatoes and a festive salad.

The 7 herbs for the holidays that you shouldn’t do without

Sweet basil does best with morning sun and afternoon shade. Grow in fertile, well-composted soil that drains well. For lush leaves water regularly and feed with a liquid feed once a month. Pinch off the white flower heads to prevent plants going to seed. Purple basil and cinnamon basil are also delicious in salad.

Dill grows 1m high and needs full sun and well-composted soil. Don’t plant it with fennel or tomatoes. The fresh leaves are more flavourful than dried. It attracts beneficial insects.

Parsley grows best in fertile soil in sun or semi-shade. It requires consistently moist (but not waterlogged) soil and should be fertilised once a month as it is a heavy feeder. The tastiest leaves are produced in the first growing season, so regard it as an annual and replace every season.

Mint is available in a number of flavourful varieties. Plants spread quickly and grow in sun or semi-shade. They like plenty of water, but well-drained soil. For bushy, healthy plants cut back regularly. Check their spread as they can be invasive.

Origanum is a low-growing, frost-hardy evergreen herb. It does well in full sun, in well-composted soil that drains well. For variety, plant spreading or upright golden origanum and cream-and-green ‘Country Cream’. All varieties are equally flavourful.

Thyme or lemon thyme is a hardy, bushy little perennial that grows in full sun, in ordinary garden soil. Regular picking keeps plants bushy and prevents them from getting woody. Also grow French thyme for culinary use.

Chives are clump-forming perennials that grow to a height of 50cm, with deep green, onion-like leaves and heads of mauve-pink flowers in summer. Chives grow easily in any soil, in full sun or partial shade and need regular watering.

For more herb information visit www.healthyliving.herbs.co.za