Tuesday 12 February 2013

Herbs, Jackie magazine and hot and sour soup recipe

Starting Vietnamese rice paper rolls
For me, fresh herbs can transform your cooking from dull, slightly dead food to something living, vibrant and fresh. When I was growing up, herbs were dry things in pots that went unused at the back of your cupboard. There are some herbs that are just as good dried, different even, such as mint but the vast majority are better cut straight from the pot.
Have you ever used micro greens? They are mini versions of some of the classic herbs and leaves (parsley, basil, pea shoots, tarragon) but also some unusual ones such as pink stem radish, salad fennel, red chard, borage and bulls blood. These not only taste great but make a fantastic garnish. The top chefs use them. Zia_Mays will tell you how to grow these and full size herbs in the next blog post.
We've had the odd celebrity guest at the Secret Garden Club; this week we had another thrilling guest, a lady who used to model for Jackie magazine!
Wendy Rigg who is now an associate editor at Reveal magazine! Love the afro and the 'fashion shawl'. I remember when everybody had grown out perms and mohair jumpers were big. 

On Sunday, the Secret Garden Club celebrated Chinese New Year as well as herbs. Here is my menu:

Muddled basil in rhubarb vodka from Chase and raspberry fizz cocktail

Tempura sage leaves

Chinese hot and sour soup with mint and coriander 

Vietnamese spring rolls with mint, coriander and basil (I didn't have holy basil so I cheated with mint and basil)

Plum and green tea buckwheat noodles with ponzu, black sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil and fresh herbs such as micro shiso leaves

Herb salad including chervil, tarragon, curly parsley, coriander, basil, mint, and lettuce with a smoked lemon and olive oil dressing.

Rosemary gelato, sour cream gelato and forest berries simmered in fresh thyme.

Lemon grass tea

Herbs were either grown in the Secret Garden or provided by The Fresh Herb Company. Micro herbs by Wow! Micro Leaf.

We handed out seeds and fresh herb pots as goodie bags to our guests at the end, again generously provided by @thefreshherbco

Here is my recipe for hot and sour soup 
which really hit the spot on the chilly rainy day.

This is a bit of a mix between a Thai sour soup and a Chinese one. I found just the black vinegar wasn't sour enough so I added lime. A proper Chinese hot and sour soup has jelly ears and bamboo shoots in it. I didn't have any so this is my bastardised version. Fear not, it was damn good even if not entirely authentic. 
It's also very Chinese if all the vegetables are julienned (cut into fine strips) and the tofu precisely cut into squares.
PS: just discovered that not everyone knows what a punnet is. It's a small container of fruit or vegetables. 

Serves 6
3-4 tablespoons of Groundnut or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves minced
1 inch fresh ginger, grated ( I keep mine in the freezer and use as and when)
1 punnet (150g) shitake mushrooms
1 punnet (150 - 200g) brown mushrooms
2 red chillis, seeded and thinly sliced
a big glug of rice wine or dry sherry
2 litres of vegetable stock
4 (ideally fresh) lime leaves (grow a kaffir lime plant to always have some around)
40ml of light soy sauce
25 ml of dark soy sauce
50ml of Chinese black vinegar
The juice of 4 limes
 3 tablespoons of cornflour mixed with 6 tablespoons of cold water

At the end add these vegetables:

1 punnet (100g) baby corn on the cobs, sliced in half down the middle
1 punnet (100g) sugar snap peas
A few carrots, finely julienned (optional)
1 punnet (150g) silken tofu, diced into 1.5cm squares. Hold it and cut it up in your palm over the pot before adding it. 
You could also add ramen noodles (but then don't add the cornflour mixture as it will be too starchy)


1 bunch of spring onions, julienned. 
1 handful of well washed beansprouts
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oil and fry the ginger, garlic, mushrooms together.
Then add the chilli and rice wine.
Add the vegetable stock and the rest of the ingredients until the limes. Taste for the required balance of heat (chili) and sour (lime and vinegar) and salt (soy sauces). Adjust.
Then add the cornflour paste and simmer for 30 minutes, unless you are adding noodles.
Next add the baby sweet corn and tofu and the noodles if you wish.
When serving add some spring onions, beansprouts, then the mint and coriander. 

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