Herbs three ways for winter greens.

Thai red and green curry paste

Herbs are the major ingredient in Thai curry paste, which forms the base of vegetarian curries as well as chicken, beef and fish or seafood curries. A dollop of curry paste adds flavour to stir-fried Asian greens, soups, noodles and any other dishes that could do with some heat.

Red curry paste goes well with chicken, beef and fish, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, butternut, snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli and baby marrows.

Combine 1 spring onion, 1 fresh stalk of lemongrass (minced), 1 – 2 red chillies, 4 cloves garlic, 1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger (grated), 2 tablespoons tomato sauce/puree, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, ¾ teaspoon ground coriander, ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper, 2 tablespoons fish sauce (or 2 tablespoons soy sauce for vegetarians), 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 tablespoon chilli powder (or more depending on your taste), 1 – 3 tablespoons thick coconut milk and 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon zest.

Blitz all the ingredients until smooth, adding extra coconut milk if necessary. Use at once or store in an airtight bottle in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Curry Paste Tips

Cooking tip: Fry the paste in a little oil to release the fragrance (about 1 minute) before adding the leafy greens and other ingredients.

Green curry paste goes well with leafy green vegetables as well as light meat such as chicken, pork, fish and other seafood.

The method is the same and the ingredients are almost the same: substitute red chillies for green, exclude the tomato sauce (and the shrimp paste for vegetarians), and add in a cup of coriander leaves and stems and a handful of fresh basil or ½ cup of oregano ‘Hot and Spicy’. Add 1/3 cup coconut milk, or enough to blend the ingredients.

Oregano

Oregano ‘Hot and spicy’ has chilli-flavoured leaves that add a fiery edge to a dish. Use it as a substitute for chillies if you don’t like too much heat. Because of its high oil content oregano ‘Hot and Spicy’ dries well and has an even stronger flavour. Use half the amount of dried oregano too fresh.

To grow: This low-growing bushy perennial (20cm high and wide) performs well in pots or in a sunny part of the food garden. Pick fresh leaves all year-round, as the plant is frost hardy. Plant it as a companion with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber and peppers. The aromatic leaves act as a pest repellent.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) has a strong scent and flavour that pairs well with garlic, fresh chillies and coriander, all stalwarts of Thai cuisine. It also adds a lemony lift to stir-fries, marinades, curries or other fish, chicken and pork dishes.

Harvest by cutting off the stalk off at ground level, slice off the lower, broader part and remove the tough outer leaves so that the yellow inner section remains. Chop that section into smaller pieces and bruise to release the lemon flavour. Add these during cooking but remove them before serving. The inner stalk can also be finely chopped or blitzed in a food processor and added to the dish.

To grow: Lemongrass is a clump-forming perennial grass that grows up to 1.5m high and 80cm wide. Plant it in full sun, in well-composted soil and in a protected area of the garden. Water regularly in summer. It is frost sensitive and should be cut back in spring to encourage new shoots.

Chillies

Chillies are generally grown as summer annuals, but they bear fruit prolifically, which can be dried (best for red curry paste), frozen, pickled or made into a hot sauce, for use year-round. Chillies vary in heat from mild to ferociously hot. Varieties to look out for are jalapeño (medium heat), serrano, cherry bomb, bird’s eye, cayenne (hot), and habanero and thai dragon (very hot).

To grow: Plant chillies in fertile soil that drains well. Morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal. Plants also grow well in pots but should be watered daily in summer. Plants need regular watering. If they dry out they will drop their flowers. Feed with a liquid fertiliser once a month.

For more on gardening: www.thegardener.co.za