The modern cook: Wake up sleepy palates with this fresh herb soup or a crisp salad fortified with sorrel, roasted radish and lentil
The daffodils have been (and are almost gone) and the branches are heavy with blossom: spring is here. In the kitchen, signs of winter are fading, although the greener things that spring will bring are still some way away. For produce, its a no mans land the hungry gap, as its often called.
Right now, soft herbs, wispy and green, fill my kitchen. From savoury flat-leaf parsley to the green tartness of the first sorrel, these first-of-the-year soft herbs, Im sure, are here to wake up our palates, lifting us out of the rhythm of winter cooking and readying us for the fresh flavours and simple dishes that lie ahead.
I buy herbs once a week or so when they look good at the shops, and keep them alongside the milk bottles in the door of my fridge, standing in glasses with some cold water at the bottom like cut flowers. This doubles their lifespan (theyll keep for about a week), and their grassy fragrance is wafted around the room each time I open the fridge a casual reminder of their presence, which means they make their way into more of my cooking than they might otherwise …
Herbs have been peppering everything I cook over the past few weeks: topping bright spring stews, taking centre stage in soft herb omelettes, crowning gently spiced pilafs, and in pestos that sit under a golden slick of oil in the fridge.
Ive been buying bunches of sorrel an underused herb, probably because it can be hard to get hold of. If you can search it out, its lemony liveliness makes your mouth water like no other food I know: if there was ever a herb to get us ready for spring, this is it. I love it in salads, baked under eggs and wilted on toast. This week, I use it with lentils and radishes to make a pretty salad with some crispy-edged lentils.
Four soft, green herbs make an appearance in todays herb soup dill, tarragon, coriander and parsley but really any combination of your favourites would work. This soup bridges the gap so perfectly: light and optimistic in flavour with lemon and herbs, but backed up with butterbeans and yoghurt.
All herbs get their flavours from the essential oils within them, but fundamentally differ from each other in strength and structure. Softer herbs like coriander or basil often add more flavour when added at the end of a dish, whereas more traditional British herbs rosemary, sage, thyme, bay add more when theyre used during the cooking. Whether or not you follow one of todays recipes, keep this in mind if and when you decide to infuse a meal with herbal notes. Springs soft herbs need little (or nothing) by way of cooking to do their very best in a meal.
Spring herb and yoghurt soup (main picture)
Just about the perfect bowlful for this space between winter and spring. You can use any soft herbs here just make sure you balance a more neutral herb, such as parsley, with a stronger one such as tarragon (the stronger the flavour the less of that herb you will need). You need quite a gentle stock for this: if you are using cubes or powder then a cube or 1 tsp of powder will be plenty in 1 litre of water.
Olive oil, for frying
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
small bunch of dill, fronds and stalks separated
small bunch of tarragon, leaves and stalks separated
1 bunch coriander, leaves and stalks separated
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks separated
400g tin butter beans, drained
1 litre vegetable stock (see note above)
4 tbsp plain yoghurt
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper
Sumac, to serve
1 Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and spices, then cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the pan smells aromatic.
2 Roughly chop the herb stalks, then add them to the pan along with the butterbeans and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, or until the stalks have softened.
3 Allow to cool a little, then whizz with a stick blender in the pan until you have a smooth soup. Add the yoghurt, most of the herb leaves (reserving a few for the top of the soup) and whizz again, until smooth.
4 Add the lemon juice and taste, adjusting the seasoning with more salt or pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of sumac and a few herb leaves.
Sorrel, roasted radish and crispy lentil salad
If you cant get hold of sorrel, scrunch a couple of handfuls of spinach together with the juice of a lemon, then roughly shred it and scatter over the top in place of the sorrel. It wont be quite as pretty, but it will still taste great.
Read more: www.theguardian.com