Friday, 16 May 2014

Leafy treats

There's nothing better that growing your own herbs and flowers - then cooking with the fruits of your labour

Written by Pip McCormac
It started with a pot of basil, bought ready-grown from the supermarket. I was at university, going through an experimental phase that stretched well beyond kissing undesirables into tentatively trying out new flavour combinations. I plucked a few leaves, chopped them into a cheese sandwich and left the plant on my window ledge. The sandwich tasted amazing, the basil adding an exotically peppery hit. I began putting its leaves in everything – the herb displayed proudly on my window ledge, a leafy statement that I wasn’t just your average student relying on beans on toast.

Food-May16-04-176And that was when I made the discovery that looking after herbs is easy. I’d forget to water my plant, or Basil, as he inevitably became known, so he’d shrivel and droop.

A splash of cold water later and he’d pick right up, his leaves would perk up again and he would start to fi ll the whole fl at with his earthy aroma. I realised then that there was nothing to this, perhaps somewhat foolhardily. Look after plants and they flourish; neglect them and they die. That’s all there is to it.

It’s in that spirit that I’ve created my new book – a belief that neither growing nor cooking should be hard work, but that both should be ultimately rewarding. There’s an inner feeling of achievement that can only be gained from tending your own little garden; a glow that’s made all the greater if you can use the fruits of your labour in your cooking.

The Herb & Flower Cookbook, by Pip McCormac, with photography by Yuki Sugiura, is published by Quadrille, priced £16.99.



Serves 4

  • 200g carrots, peeled
  • 200g white cabbage
  • 4 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 4 tbsp pansy owers
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tuna steaks
For the dressing:
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce 
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce

Slice the carrot and cabbage into really thin strips using a mandolin, potato peeler or knife. Divide the carrot, cabbage, coriander and pansies between four plates, arranging them nicely with the owers on top. Put all the dressing ingredients into a jar and shake together to mix well. Set it aside to sit for 1 min. Mix together the olive oil and soy sauce and use it to baste each tuna steak liberally. Set a heavy-bottomed frying or griddle pan over a high heat and let it get really hot before adding the  sh, searing each side for 1-2 mins. It will cook quickly but remain a bit pink on the inside. Place a steak on each plate, sliced if you like, drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.


Serves 2

  • 150g apricots
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 sprig of lavender
  • Greek yoghurt, for serving

Halve and stone the apricots. Place the apricot halves into a small saucepan with a lid and add 50ml cold water, the sugar and the owers from the sprig of lavender (if you’re using dried lavender, ½ tsp will do). Bring the apricots to the boil, then cover them with a lid and reduce the heat. Let them simmer for about 15 mins or until soft. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and share between two bowls. Add a dollop of Greek yoghurt to each serving and drizzle a little of the cooking juices over the top. Serve immediately.


Makes about 1 litre

  • 1 litre gin
  • half a cucumber, chopped into short batons
  • 4-5 dill fronds
  • tonic or cloudy lemonade, for serving

Pour the gin into a container large enough for you to be able to add the other ingredients. Throw in the cucumber and dill, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

Use the infusion as the base for a gin and tonic, or with cloudy lemonade for a long, cool drink. The infused gin will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week. Feel free to leave the cucumber and dill oating happily in it.

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