Summer herbs and a mixed grain salad

First published July 2015

In addition to the abundance of soft fruit, July also heralds the verdant arrival of fresh herbs. A far cry from the dry, sawdust filled jars of my childhood, modern home cooks can now add a plethora of bright flavours to their dishes.

Beyond the ubiquitous basil of an Italian pasta or spicy coriander in a handmade curry, many cooks still report a lack of confidence in using herbs in their kitchen. On top of adding depth and complexity to an otherwise simple dish, herbs are often packed with numerous vitamins and minerals required for a healthy diet. This month I take a look at how to get the best out of this powerhouse ingredient.

Herby Mixed Grain Salad

The mixed grains give a nuttier texture to this salad and many combinations are available in supermarkets or health food stores. Mine contained emmer, barley, durum wheat and buckwheat as well as red and black rice. You can replace the mixed grains with an extra 85g of couscous if it feels easier. It’s delicious served warm with steamed fish – or cool to room temperature and add the watercress and radish for a satisfying vegetarian lunch.

Serves 4

  • 90g quick cook mixed grains
  • Half a chicken stock cube
  • Small handful of green beans
  • A good handful each of flat leaf parsley, mint and dill
  • One small courgette
  • 100g couscous
  • Peel and juice of 1 lemon
  • Slug of cold pressed rapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 80 – 100g bunch of watercress (optional)
  • 8 – 12 chopped radishes (optional)

Method

  • Put the quick cook mixed grains and half a stock cube in a pan and cover with boiling water. Cook according to pack instructions.
  • Top and the tail the green beans. Add to the pan around 7-8 minutes before the grains are due to be cooked.
  • Finely chop the herbs and dice the raw courgette. Put to one side. Pour your couscous into a heat proof dish and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the zest of half a lemon and a good slug of the rapeseed oil. Combine well.
  • Once the grains are cooked and the green beans al dente, drain and keep the cooking water.
  • Take your heatproof bowl and just cover the couscous with the reserved water from earlier. Top up with hot water from your kettle if required. Leave until the water is fully absorbed and you can fluff the couscous up with a fork.
  • Prepare to assemble the salad. In a large dish combine the grains, green beans, couscous, herbs and diced courgette. If serving at room temperature toss with the watercress and scatter on the crunchy radishes before serving.

Tips for buying and using herbs

  1. Buy what you need and no more if you can. Most summer herbs don’t keep well in the fridge. If you use a particular herb on a regular basis then you can find a great selection of healthy plants at your local garden centre.
  2. Look to other cultures for herb based inspiration. Dill can be found running through Ukrainian and Norwegian recipes, whilst the combination of parsley, mint, garlic and lemon is the linchpin of Middle Eastern salads.
  3. Don’t be scared of big flavours. Experiment. What’s the worse that can happen?
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