Tim Warren from Garnisha in Boreen Point helped Matthew Hayden choose the herbs and spices for his garden spiral. Garnish is a seven acre working garden north of Noosa in Queensland which produces all manner of herbs, spices, chutneys and curry pastes.
Tim has the following advice for choosing good produce.
Herbs vs spices
First it is important to know the difference between herbs and spices.
Herbs are the leaf of a plant used in cooking.
Spices are any other part of the plant, often dried. Eg: buds (cloves), bar (cinnamon), roots (ginger and galangal), berries (peppercorns) and aromatic seeds (cumin).
Many spices only get their key flavour from drying. For example, coriander leaves are a herb but dried coriander seeds are a spice.
“The most popular herbs from our farm are chilli and fresh turmeric (a plant of the ginger family),” says Tim.
Turmeric has two uses and two distinct flavours when used fresh. There’s the root of the turmeric, which is like ginger with its intense yellow bitter flavour, then there’s the leaf which has a distinct flavour and tastes of mango – but has the consistency of lettuce.
The turmeric leaf is the ingredient which gives Massaman curry its distinctive fruity notes. It is very strong so you have to know what you’re doing.
It grows well in warm climates - anything north of Albury/Wodonga – and is native to northern Thailand.
Pimento is similar to allspice, also known as Jamaican pepper. Use the leaf like bay leaf. It’s suitable for casseroles, continental food and curries. It’s also distilled in oil for perfume and cosmetics. If you have a perfume which is fruity and aromatic, it’s likely that pimento has been used as a base.
Chilli is the easiest herb to grow in Australia. “It grows like a weed,” says Tim.
The fruit is eaten raw or cooked for its fiery hot flavour, concentrated along the top of the pod. Removing the inner membranes of the pod reduces the heat.
This is an Indian spice. “You can’t use it dry,” advises Tim. “Use it fresh, otherwise you might as well use the cardboard from the package it comes in.” The curry leaf tree requires rich, well-drained soil in a warm, sheltered position, as it is a tropical to sub-tropical tree.
In the kitchen, use the leaves for a subtle, spicy flavour with meat, seafood or vegetable curries, chutneys, pickles, coconut sauces, relishes, omelettes, marinades and vegetarian cuisine.
A lot of people use lemongrass in Vietnam and Thailand. You can make a lovely, fresh marinade with it using yoghurt, chilli and ginger, or add it to soups or seafood dishes for a lemon, zesty flavour.
To use fresh lemongrass, always cut off the lower bulb and remove tough, outer leaves. The main stalk (the yellow section) needs to be bruised to release the flavour so roll it with a rolling pin. You can also fry lemongrass.