Add aromatic pizzazz

02:16, Feb 25 2014

"I'm mad about herbs - so much so that I actually dream about them . . . They're an absolute must for any kitchen." - Jamie Oliver

Culinary herbs have been held in high esteem for thousands of years as natural remedies for many ills. Some beliefs have been proven to be old wives' tales, but many herbs relieve the symptoms and ease the discomfort of non-serious conditions.

Those that ease digestive problems primarily are rich in oils - for example, the mint family, basil, rosemary, sage and dill. Place a few fresh leaves in a pot and cover with boiling water to make a simple tea.

Herbs add aromatic pizzazz to dishes, either individually or in a mixture. Every national cuisine has its favourite herbs - the Middle East and Greece favour marjoram, oregano, mint and dill; Thai cuisine uses coriander, basil and lemongrass; in Italy, sage, basil, parsley and oregano are commonly used; and in France, tarragon, chervil and fennel are favoured.

Marjoram is often confused with oregano, and understandably so. Origanum is the generic name for several aromatic herbs called marjoram.

Sweet marjoram (origanum majorana) is the common variety grown in New Zealand gardens - a compact plant with soft grey-green leaves and a mild savoury flavour. Use it in lightly flavoured egg and fish dishes, and add it just before serving, as it loses flavour when cooked.


Oregano (origanum vulgare) is more robust in flavour and growth, spreading rapidly as a ground cover plant. Pasta or pizza with oregano is a match made in heaven.

French tarragon is the aristocrat of all herbs. It is best enjoyed fresh - when dried, it smells a little like hay - but its flavour is readily absorbed by sauces, so use it sparingly.

Tarragon is one of the classical fine herbs of French cuisine, together with parsley, chives, chervil and marjoram. Russian tarragon is more vigorous but has little flavour compared to the French variety.


1 cup mixed fresh herbs, eg parsley, mint, coriander, basil

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

250g boneless salmon loins

2 Tbsp each: olive oil, lime or lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 80 degrees C.

Chop the mixed herbs finely. Combine with the chives and breadcrumbs. Press on top of each salmon loin. Place in a baking pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through. Alternatively, cover and cook in a non-stick frying pan for 6-7 minutes on a medium-low heat..

Combine the remaining oil and lime or lemon juice to make a dressing. Serve the salmon with a little of the dressing drizzled around the outside edge. Serves 2.


3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

8 cloves garlic, halved

18 sage leaves

2 sprigs rosemary

1/8 tsp chilli flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

12-14 medium chicken drumsticks

2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes

75g pitted and dried black olives with herbs

3/4 cup white wine

4 Tbsp tomato paste

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the garlic, sage leaves, rosemary and chilli flakes and heat for 30 seconds. Place in a large casserole.

Season the chicken. Saute the chicken in batches until lightly coloured on all sides. Place in the casserole.

Add the tomatoes, olives, wine and tomato paste. Stir well, then simmer for 10 minutes. Pour over the chicken in the casserole. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour. Serves 6.


1.5kg (about 36) greenlipped mussels

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small fennel bulb, diced

1 Tbsp each: chopped rosemary, thyme, oregano, French tarragon

2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes

2 Tbsp tomato paste

Scrub the mussels well in cold water and snip off any beards. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Saute the onion, stirring, until softened. Stir in the garlic and herbs and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil over a high heat and boil until reduced by half (about 10 minutes).

Add the mussels and stir well. Cover and steam over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mussels open (about 5 minutes) - discard any that do not open.

Serve in deep bowls. Great served sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs and accompanied by chunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices. Serves 4.


1 large ripe pear, peeled, cored and finely diced

1 cup fresh mixed herbs, eg basil, mint, parsley, coriander, finely chopped

1-2 Tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

8 angus beef sausages

Combine the pear, herbs, lemon juice and seasonings in a bowl.

Prick the sausages with a fork once or twice. Grill or barbecue the sausages over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning often, or until cooked.

Remove the sausages and slit them down the length, almost through to the other side. Pile the salsa on top and serve. Serves 4.

Copyright Jan Bilton

The Marlborough Express