The other day Mrs B came home with a new cook book. This not an entirely unusual occurrence: we both enjoy discovering new recipes, and Mrs B owns a Bookshop. You do the Math. Home Food, is written by Olia Hercules. She is Ukrainian, co-founder of #cookforukraine and in this, her latest book, she details many simple, delicious recipes. There was one that we were both drawn to describing a novel way of cooking aubergine, which was as simple as it was surprising. It involved steaming the aubergine whole for 40 minutes. That was it.
The (not particularly) tricky part of the recipe was making a dressing with which to smother the halved vegetable and provide some flavour to the mushy flesh inside. It was easy and yet so filled with flavour, and most of the ingredients were simple store cupboard items, like soy sauce, wine vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil and sesame seeds. And to add extra staisfaction to our implementation of the recipe, it also listed items which we could readily harvest from the garden, such as chillis and garlic, which has cropped early and heavy this year. I have over forty good bulbs, all produced from the bulbs I grew last year, so it has not only been plentiful, but virtually free, too.
But the pièce de résistance came at the end of the recipe, when the author instructed me to add some chopped mint. Thisis a bit of a no-brainer, as mint grows like a weed in any kitchen garden, and at this time of year it is young and zingy in its flavour. But, in a twist that was straight out of an M&S food advert, the author had decided to take it to another level and admitted that for the picture in the book, she had “got all fancy”, gone a bit rogue, and added some Peruvian mint. Now, I have have grown this for some years, but it is the first time I have ever seen Peruvian, or Black Mint as an ingredient in a mainstream cook book. So, after picking my spring onions, I stopped off in the greenhouse to pick a few leaves. It provided a subtly different flavour and look to the meal, but it also provided a massive geographical shift and validation for my persistence in growing apparently niche herbs from around the world.
The recipe also needed a spring onion, and lo and behold, I have a row of sping onions in the veg patch, so I just pottered out and pulled a couple.
This year, the Black Mint, Korean Mint and Pipiche (‘Bolivian Corander’) all germinated extremely well and we looked as if we would be getting a fine crop with plenty of seedlings to give to friends. It seemed that, unlike many of our seedlings, our Herbal Foreign Legion seemed immune to the local slugs, so I potted them on with little fear for the consequences. But the local slime balls had either rapidly developed their taste for overseas food, or had simply been playing a waiting game, as one morning I came out to see the pots decimated by the sluggy thugs. I gave my herbs made a tactical retreat to the relative safety of the greenhouse, potted on some of the previous rejects and have managed to nurture some replacements which are ‘doing well’.
I planted them out in a raised bed, interplanting amongst the sweetcorn, as tidy as an Inca’s allotment. To keep the slugs at bey, I have been organised enough to put in beer traps. I was not, however, organised enough to get some cheap beer in for the job (I reckon a malty porter does the trick), so had to use whatever came to hand. In this case it was a choice of some fancy “craft” IPA or a bottle of reliable Doom Bar. Despite evidence that the slugs have acquired a taste for foreign herbs, I did not think they would have refined their palates to go for an NEIPA made with Citra Hops, with a complex fruitiness and layers of tropical flavour. So Doom Bar it was, sacriligeous as that may be to some. But the results spoke for themselves, with half a dozen sozzled slugs floating in the jars of ale the next morning, like little Dukes of Clarence in Malmesey wine.
The herbs continue to flourish.