Produce report: October 2
Fresh herbs may be available in supermarkets from one season to another but at this time of year the line-up grows – literally, of course, and through variety.
During October, borage, dill, lemon balm, Vietnamese mint, nasturtium, oregano, sage and thyme join the stalwarts - parsley, rosemary, mint and bay - that are with us all year. Come November we get more of a taste of summer and can add basil and tarragon to the mix. (When buying, remember French tarragon is more fragrant and delicately flavoured than the more bitter Russian type.)
No herb garden? A trip to your local farmers’ market should yield some lesser known ones.
The first rule when using herbs is not to wash them until just before use. Soft herbs (think parsley, tarragon, dill, mint and coriander) can be stored like flowers, the bottoms trimmed and the bunch placed in a glass of water which should be refreshed every couple of days. Cover loosely with a plastic bag, which helps retain moisture, and refrigerate. Basil should never be refrigerated.
Hard herbs with woody stems (rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano) can be wrapped loosely in a paper towel and then placed in a sealed plastic bag or container. Hard herbs can also be frozen in ice cube trays, covered in olive oil, to be added later to cooked dishes. When using herbs, add hard ones at the start of cooking (or chop very finely and add sparingly at the end). Soft herbs are added at the end of cooking so their more delicate flavour won’t be overpowered.
Tangelos should be arriving in stores any day, available until December. A hybrid, mostly grown in New Zealand around Gisborne, they are a cross between a tangerine and pomelo or grapefruit, and sometimes between a mandarin and grapefruit. They combine mandarin’s easy peel with grapefruit’s tartness and, with few pips but loads of juice, they make a refreshing lunchbox addition. Tangelos are a good source of vitamin C. When buying, look for dark, almost red, skins which indicate ripeness and store them at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Capsicums, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower (which is looking so good) should all be on the shopping list this week. Asparagus prices are lowering and local courgettes are available but the season is in its infancy and prices reflect this. The recent fuel crisis hasn’t been good news for imports and the price of green beans has risen. Local chilli prices should start lowering at the end of this month with the new season.
What do I do with…
Borage (October to April): It’s the purple flowers (photographed above) rather than the hairy leaves, that are mostly used as a garnish on salads and desserts.
Dill (October to April): With a mild but sweet aniseed flavour, dill is good sparingly used in fish and egg dishes, with pickles, steamed veges, salads, soups and sauces.
Lemon balm (October to April): Mild and lemony, it's great in vegetable dishes, in salads, with poultry, stuffings and as a refreshing tea. Use it only when fresh. The flavour is lost when it is dried.
Vietnamese mint (October- April): Has a spicy, peppery taste, a bit like a cross between regular mint and coriander (it is sometimes called Vitenamese coriander). It has longer pointy leaves than the more usual mint and is used in salads, tucked into fresh spring rolls, with duck and on herb plates as an accompaniment.
Nasturtium (September to April): Use both the delicate flowers and the leaves in salads. Be sure to choose young leaves - they have a peppery taste like watercress. Pickled nasturtium seeds are used as a substitute for capers.