have you heard of salsa verde?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how I was planning a trip to Argentina. I had this revelation at about the same time that I started planning my Christmas menu and thought it might be a nice opportunity to try my hand at another quintessential dish. Bringing us to Christmas condiment number 2; salsa verde.

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Salsa Verde is Spanish for green sauce, it is packed full of fresh herbs which give it a punchy flavour, great for enhancing any meal!

Like I said the other day; our Christmas meal was a beautiful rack of lamb, and what is a traditional, go-to side to roast lamb? Mint sauce! Salsa Verde is essentially mint, basil and parsley which makes it not only delicious, but quick and hassle-free to make, and perfect for the summertime!

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All you will need for this tasty accompaniment is:

2 handfuls of parsley leaves
1 handful of mint leaves
1 handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers
2 large gherkins
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
the juice of half a lemon
8 tablespoons of olive oil
a big crack of pepper
1 handful of cashew nuts

I know that ‘handful’ isn’t exactly a scientific way of measuring anything but I think it works here – if you’re picking the herbs from your garden you can wrap your hands around as many stems as you want for each of the three. I bought mine at the market and just made one bunch the equivalent of a handful and the ratio worked well for me!

Cashew nuts are not in any recipe I have seen online but I added them for two reasons; I thought their subtle nutty flavour would mellow the harsh zing of the herbs, and I have come left over from when I made my stollen.

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Give the leaves a rinse under cold water and discard the stems, whiz all of the ingredients up in the food processor and you are good to go! The herbs retain a little bit of their crunch and absorb the sweet spiciness of the golden, pale green olive oil – it’s a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, so irresistible that I may or may not have mopped the remnants from the food processor with a piece of bread!

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Served alongside the lamb and a pile of new potatoes, the green smattering of sauce gave my plate a needed burst of colour and brought the flavours to a whole new level!

 

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fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

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Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

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Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

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Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

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While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

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Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

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It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

dried herbs; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

I once dated a chef who detested dried herbs. And I really mean detested, to the point of often commenting to wait staff when a dish used dried herbs, and I don’t mean nice comments. It’s safe to say, we are no longer together.

I love dried herbs, I think they are handy in every style of cooking. And even though they never have the same flavour as fresh herbs, I wouldn’t necessarily say their flavour wasn’t as good.

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The issue I find with fresh herbs is that, unless you keep them in a little pot on the windowsill, you run the risk of never using them because, like me, it is far too much of a hassle to run to the front porch to pick some parsley while you’re in the midst of cooking.

Because of this reason, I noticed that a) I was hardly ever using fresh herbs and b) my herb pot was barely noticeable underneath the tangles of lime green that used to be a quaint little parsley plant but has more recently transitioned into a fully-fledged tree. It was going to seed and I had to do something about it.

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So, I spent the better part of an hour snipping any useable leaf off the plants before some serious pruning; cutting the plants back to within an inch of life. Obviously I did all of this while trying to avoid disturbing the snails and other creepy crawlies that have set up shop down amongst the weeds.

Drying herbs is by no means a difficult task and there are a range of ways to do it; from hanging it in bushels above the window, dancing in the breeze and basking in the sunshine, to using a dehydrator or slow cooker. I opted to do use the oven because I was not overly confident that the sunshine wouldn’t give way to rain, and there was a table hen in my slow cooker.

Low difficulty factor aside, the time factor is rather high – it does involve having the oven on for most of the afternoon so it’s a great excuse for avoiding any social contact on a day when you would rather be sprawled out on the couch or sipping a mojito on the veranda.

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Rinse your herbs, pat them dry and leave on a tea towel until all surface moisture has evaporated. Spread them artistically on a baking tray lined with baking paper and take a moment to admire their pure, green beauty. Insert the tray into an oven which is set at slightly above body temperature – mine was just below 50°C and prop the door slightly ajar with a folded tea towel.

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Depending on how much you are drying, and I suggest you make the quantity rather large, the drying process will take at least 3 hours but do not take them out until they are as dry as a dead autumnal leaf. The low temperature won’t set them alight if they are left in slightly too long – I went to bed and woke up in a panic-stricken state at 2am because I hadn’t turned the oven off, and mine turned out fine!

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Once they are out of the oven and completely cooled, crush them and store in a jar or airtight container, this can be done either by hand or with a mortar and pestle. The leaves will break up as you jam them all into the jar anyhow.

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One last word of advice; make sure you label the jar rather boldly, we wouldn’t want anyone seeing it and assuming it’s something else… you all know what I mean, don’t make me say it!