Herbs for Asian cooking

Following on from last month’s column on growing fresh herbs for your favourite cooking style, here are some easy-to-grow herbs that add extra special flavour to Asian dishes. They can be grown in the ground or in containers, in a special area or simply incorporated into the general garden.

Coriander leaves are used to flavour Asian dishes and the seeds and roots are also used in curries and spice pastes. It is easier to grow in the cooler weather as it rapidly bolts to seed when sown in summer. To keep a regular supply during the warmer weather, sow a few seeds every few weeks straight into well-drained fertile soil.

Chilli is used to add heat to many dishes and these easy to grow annuals come in a range of intensities, from mild to ‘set your tongue on fire’. They are frost tender annuals that grown over the warm weather and best planted in spring.

Vietnamese hot mint, also known as Vietnamese coriander, adds a wonderful flavour when used fresh in salads or cold rolls, or cooked in Laksa and other Thai soups. Its leaves are mottled green and brown and spear shaped, with attractive pink flowers in summer and autumn. It likes to grow in moist soils in sun or semi-shade.

Basil is a versatile herb that is not only used in Italian cooking, but it is also great in Asian dishes. Sweet basil is an annual planted in spring for summer and autumn harvesting. There are perennial forms of basil that will persist through winter in frost-free areas, however their flavour is stronger and not as sweet. Basil likes well drained, rich soil that is kept moist.

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Lemon grass can be used in a number of ways in Asian cooking. Bunch some stems together and allow them to infuse in the dish as a bouquet garni, or finely chop the tender stems or whitish bulb, adding this to the cooking. It can also be used to make an herbal tea. It is a frost tender perennial that makes a striking clump in the garden, with arching green razor sharp foliage. It prefers to grow in rich well-drained soils.

Galangal, also known as Thai ginger, is a frost tender perennial with a rhizome that can be harvested as required and used to give food a hot pungent flavour. The taste is between pepper and ginger, and can be used fresh or dried to flavour curries, soup, meat and fish. It prefers to grow in moist soils in a sheltered or semi-shaded position.

Curry leaf tree, Murraya koenigii, is a relative of the very popular scented hedging plant Orange jessamine or Murraya. It has glossy green foliage that is used in Asian cooking to give a curry flavour. It grows to 3m high although it can be pruned to keep it lower or grown very successfully in a pot. It requires a warm frost free area and prefers moist fertile well-drained soil.

Kaffir lime is a citrus grown for its foliage rather than its fruit. It has very large spines and wrinkled fruits and grows well in a pot. When the leaves are sliced very finely it provides a rich lemon flavour for meat, savour and sweets dishes.


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These herbs when used fresh from your garden all add to the intensity of flavour and subsequently enjoyment of Asian cooking.


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