Which Herb Goes With Which Food?
Herbs are the leaf part of a plant that is used in cooking – these can be used fresh or dried.
Any other part of the plant, which is usually dried, is referred to as a spice. These include, for example, barks (cinnamon), berries (peppercorns), seeds (cumin), roots (turmeric), flowers (chamomile), buds (cloves) and stigmas of flowers (saffron).
Herbs are a fantastic way to add flavour and colour to any sort of dish or drink, whether sweet or savoury, without adding fat, salt or sugars. In addition to flavour and colour, they each also tend to have their own set of health-promoting properties.
Generally, fresh herbs are delicately flavoured, so if adding them to your cooking, do so in the last few minutes. Tasting your dish as you go along will help you tell if you’ve added enough. If not enough herbs are used, then little difference will be made to the flavour of the dish, but if too many herbs are added, their flavour will overpower other ingredients.
Good herb and food combinations
There are unlimited ways to use herbs in your cooking. Here are some traditional pairings to get you started:
- basil – pesto, tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice, potato dishes, prawns, meat, chicken and poultry, pasta, rice, egg dishes, strawberries
- bay leaves – soups, stews, casseroles, meat and poultry marinades, stocks
- chilli – meat, chicken and poultry, shellfish, tomato dishes, curries
- chives – salads, chicken, soups, cheese dishes, egg dishes, mayonnaise, vinaigrettes
- coriander – Asian dishes, stir fries, curries, soups, salads, seafood, guacamole
- dill – salads, sauces, fish, sour cream, cheese and potato dishes
- fennel – stuffings, sauces, seafood, salads
- garlic – soups, sauces, pasta, meat, chicken, shellfish, pesto, salad dressings, bread
- ginger – cakes, biscuits, Asian dishes
- lemongrass – Asian dishes, stir fries, curries, seafood, soups, tea
- marjoram – meat, fish, egg dishes, cheese dishes, pizza
- mint – drinks, confectionery, meat, chicken, yoghurt, desserts, sauces, vegetable dishes
- oregano – cheese dishes, egg dishes, tomato sauce, pizza, meat, stuffing, bread, pasta
- parsley – pesto, egg dishes, pasta, rice dishes, salads, butter, sauces, seafood, vegetable dishes
- rosemary – fish, poultry, meat, bread, sauces, soups
- sage – stuffings, tomato dishes, cheese dishes, pumpkin dishes, chicken dishes
- tarragon – salad dressing, egg dishes
- thyme – chowders, bread, chicken and poultry, soups, stock, stews, stuffings, butter, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar.
Just remember that for health benefits, butters and creams are best saved for sometimes rather than everyday foods.
Tips for cooking with herbs
Suggestions for cooking with herbs include:
- Dried herbs are more strongly flavoured than fresh. As a general rule, one teaspoon of dried herbs equals 4 teaspoons of fresh.
- If you regularly use herbs, you might like to create a ‘bouquet garni’ by tying chopped and mixed herbs in little muslin bags – these can be added to your cooking for flavour but removed before serving.
- Some herbs are hardier than others (like rosemary and parsley) and will retain their flavour during the cooking process – these can be added at the start of your cooking.
- Some herbs are used only to flavour a dish but are not eaten – bay leaves for example.
- The flavour of herbs fades with time, so discard dried herbs after 12 months.
- Dried whole herbs, where the leaves are still attached to their stalk, tend to have a stronger flavour than loose leaves sold in packets or jars.
Although you can use one type of herb at a time, there are many great combinations that work well too.
Some traditional combinations are:
- basil – with chives, chilli, garlic, oregano
- bay – with parsley, thyme, garlic, oregano, marjoram
- chilli – with coriander, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mint, oregano
- chives – with basil, garlic, tarragon
- dill – with chives, garlic, parsley, tarragon
- garlic – with basil, rosemary, sage, fennel, chilli, coriander
- oregano – with basil, parsley, chives, thyme, bay, chilli
- sage – with rosemary, garlic, marjoram
- thyme – with bay, parsley, garlic, rosemary.
As our food landscape is ever-evolving, particularly with the influence new migrant groups bring, so does the availability of herbs previously uncommon in Australia. For example, Vietnamese food is known for using herbs with such abundance that, at times, there are more herbs than salad leaves in a Vietnamese salad.
Native ingredients like lemon myrtle, river mint and pepperberry, for example, are also starting to become more widely available.