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Jekka's Herb Cookbook – book review

11 June 2010 by

Jekka's Herb CookbookBy Jekka McVicarEbury Press, £20ISBN 9780091930417

Knowledge is always a good thing and that is certainly the case with Jekka's Herb Cookbook, a wonderful new book from "the queen of herbs" Jekka McVicar.

The book is packed with useful information about McVicar's top 50 culinary herbs - from the well known, such as parsley and rosemary, to more exotic varieties like curry leaf and Vietnamese coriander.

For each one she includes a description of the plant, how it is harvested and used, its properties, varieties, and a fascinating history of its use over the years in cooking. The book provides a thorough understanding of how and why these plants can provide such a useful and valuable addition to the culinary repertoire.

There is perhaps no-one more authoritative on culinary herbs in the UK than McVicar. She and her husband have created an award-wining operation in Jekka's Herb Farm in South Gloucestershire, where they organically grow more than 600 different varieties.

But McVicar is not just a grower; she is also an instinctive cook, having been brought up by a mother who was a keen grower of herbs and vegetables. From a young age she was taught how to incorporate the herbs in all manner of bottling, preserving and baking. She was also encouraged to write recipes by her grandmother, who herself produced cookery books.

Over the years, McVicar has been inspired by many professional chefs, such as Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Michael Caines and Rick Stein, and the book contains more than 250 original recipes. These include Tunisian salad with caraway seed and mint, which provides a classic mix of Middle Eastern flavours, while lemon verbena gives a citrus kick to a raspberry fool. For something different, she suggests adding shiso, a Far Eastern herb, to spicy tuna burgers or making a nasturtium butter to serve with grilled salmon. There are no photographs, but the watercolour illustrations by McVicar's daughter Hannah enhance the text beautifully.

Jekka's Herb Cookbook will add extensively to a chef's knowledge, as well as inspire a wide selection of both savoury and sweet dishes.

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