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When using herbs, think fresh says Sophie Grigson

PUBLISHED: 13:12 07 April 2011 | UPDATED: 22:01 21 February 2013

When using herbs, think fresh says Sophie Grigson

When using herbs, think fresh says Sophie Grigson

We all know the benefits of eating fresh food and herbs are no exception. Chefs in top restaurants only cook using the freshest herbs, knowing that they exude taste, freshness, flavour and aroma...

We all know the benefits of eating fresh food and herbs are no exception. Chefs in top restaurants only cook using the freshest herbs, knowing that they exude taste, freshness, flavour and aroma. Which is why, where herbs are concerned, cook and food writer Sophie Grigson is urging consumers to think fresh.

Using most dried herbs is a major faux-pas, says Sophie Grigson. With such an abundance of varieties of fresh herbs available nowadays in supermarkets, its a shame not to cook with fresh herbs. Herbs are more interchangeable than people assume. If you havent any fresh basil, why not use mint in a tomato salad?

There are some instances where you cannot substitute dried herbs for the real thing. For example, you really wouldnt want to use dried herbs in a sandwich or baguette, or a salad. So, to enjoy the real taste of fresh herbs, why not try Sophie Grigsons Griddled Tuna, Sauce Vierge and Gremolata (full recipe at the end of the release).

The drawback of using dried herbs, apart from the taste, is the amount of time they have spent in your cupboard. Comedian Michael McIntyre raises the roof with his sketch about dried herbs vying with salt and pepper to get out of the cupboard and onto the dining table, poking fun at the fact that some of them are so old they have even moved house with the owners!

Mat Prestwich, from the British Herb Trade Association, says: When it comes to cooking you cant beat the aroma and taste of fresh herbs. Consumers are doing their food an injustice by adding dried herbs which can not maximise the flavours of a dish in the same way that fresh herbs can.

For some consumers, the thought of wasted fresh herbs can be a reason not to buy them. But its easy to get many uses out of a pack or pot of fresh herbs and any surplus herbs can be frozen. Simply wash them, gently shake dry and place in a labelled bag in the freezer. Use them in cooked dishes straight from the freezer by simply crushing the bag and sprinkling in to your dish. They are best used within a month.

For thousands of years, herbs have been used to add flavour and aroma to a wide range of dishes and have long been known for their health properties. They can transform the most ordinary meals into something extraordinary. With such a great array of fresh herbs in different sized pots and packs available in supermarkets, theres never been a better time to start using fresh herbs, from pungent Greek basil and lemon thyme to aromatic coriander and delicate parsley.

The best way to store cut herbs is to either place the bag in the salad drawer of the refrigerator or for maximum freshness, cut 2cm off the stalks and put in a cup of water in the refrigerator. Try to avoid submerging the leaves in the water.

Many herbs originate from hot countries; therefore pot herbs like to be kept on the dry side. The more light and heat they are exposed to, the more frequently they will need watering. Take the pot herb out of its sleeve and place on a saucer and water sparingly from its roots.

In Iran it is traditional to serve a fresh herb salad with every meal to refresh, cleanse and invigorate the palate. Choose herbs such as basil, chives, tarragon, mint, coriander and flat leaf parsley and any other tender leaved herbs that you have a taste for. Pick off all the leaves or tear or chop as appropriate and toss together with spring onions, radishes and feta cheese. Traditionally these are served without dressings but a squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper can be added. Serve with warm flat bread.

Herbs work really well in sandwiches and baguettes, so liven your lunch up with these suggestions:

  • Tuna mayonnaise with flat-leaf parsley and spring onions, with cucumber, mixed lettuce and seasoning on wholegrain bread.

  • Brie, tomatoes and basil in a baguette.

Sophie Grigsons Griddled Tuna, Sauce Vierge and Gremolata (courtesy of Sophie Grigsons Herbs book) recipe:

Serves 4

4 portions of tuna steak cut about 2 - 2.5 cm thick, weighing around 175 - 200g (6-7oz) each

A little extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Lemon wedges, to serve

For the sauce:

teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed

teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

75ml (2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons good red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded, and finely diced

For the gremolata

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 garlic clove, chopped


  1. Begin by seasoning the tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Set aside. To make the sauce, put the coriander seeds and peppercorns into a small heavy-based saucepan set over a moderate heat and dry fry until they give off a tantalizing aroma. Now reduce the heat and the olive oil. Heat for a few seconds, then stir in the vinegar. Draw off the heat and set aside while you prepare the rest of the dish.

  2. Mix the ingredients for the gremolata on a board and chop them together until they are very finely chopped. Put into a small bowl, cover and set aside until needed.

  3. To griddle the steaks, put a griddle pan over a high heat and leave for about 4 minutes. Brush the tuna steaks lightly with olive oil and lay them on the griddle pan. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes on each side

  4. As they cook, stir the tomato dice into the sauce vierge and warm through if you wish (but do not let it boil). Lay the tuna on plates, spoon a little of the sauce vierge around and over them, then sprinkle with gremolata and serve with wedges of lemon.

For more information, recipes and herb tips, visit www.fresh-herbs.co.uk

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