Each year, I note in my 'cookery planning' diary the specialist weeks and days - peanut butter week (yes!), Real Bread Week, Chocolate Week, Waffle Day, International Food Day etc. And I search in vain for Herb Week... Or even Herb Day. There is something called the International Herb Association, based in the US, which I found and which appears to celebrate herbs during the week before Mother's Day but then it seems to have gone quiet recently so I do not know even if the Association remains active.
Herbs, I feel, are often the forgotten ingredient. Often not even seen as an ingredient. A definition of 'ingredient' in the Cambridge English Dictionary 'a food that is used with other foods in the preparation of a particular dish.' I often wonder why 'used with other foods' seems, in restaurants and cafes in particular, to mean 'plonk it on the side of a dish as an afterthought'!
Herb History - Winter Savory as Salt Replacement
The looming Salt Awareness Week in March was a chance for me to reflect on how much folk used to use herbs as an integral ingredient, when salt was not widely available. Consider the herb Winter Savory, for example.
Now, Winter Savory is known as the 'Bean Herb' for two reasons... Firstly, it is used with beans in order to reduce flatulence! But the second more flavour-focused reason is this: When you cook beans, and add salt to them for flavour, the beans become tough. So people used to cook beans with Winter Savory instead, because of its strong flavour (some say it tastes like pine - I do not know as I have never eaten a pine tree!). It is indeed very strong raw - unless you use the leaves when they are very young. But, when cooked, it adds a flavour which is a bit indefinable - it seems to hit that part of the tongue that responds well to salt. So if you are cooking beans, add your Winter Savory at the start of the cooking process, instead of salt.
Vegetable Soup with Winter Savory
But if you don't like beans, it does not come with a 'Can only cook with beans' label! Given how we are still, in theory (at the time I write this) in Winter, try a hearty winter veggie soup with it. Here is a recipe:
Vegetables - Root vegetables work best
Take some stock (home made or shop bought). Add to it some onion (already chopped and fried to make it a bit soft - but not burnt!). Then add some chopped raw veggies of your choice. Then take the leaves of your Winter Savory. Add to the veggie/stock/onion mix. Just add a couple of teaspoons the first time you make it until you decide how much you like it. Bring it all to the boil and then simmer until the veggies are nice and soft. You can then either leave the soup as it is or blitz it in a blender. All very much up to you.
And whilst you are enjoying your soup... who is with me for the launching of Herb Week soon?!