Cooking with lemon verbena

Like mint, lemon verbena grows freely in the garden and is great for making herbal teas or adding to home-made cordials

Like mint, lemon verbena grows freely in the garden and is great for making herbal teas or adding to home-made cordials

Even Yotam Ottolenghi won’t always make his own spice paste and, like the rest of us, he will reach for a jar of something ready-made from time-to-time. Of course, this still needs to be something decent, and he rates a jar of rose harissa as a firm favourite.

Likewise, my fridge is never without one or other of these sweet, aromatic and subtly spiced Moroccan chilli pastes. Still, they never last me long. When not being used for main meals, it’ll be whipped up with Greek yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon and attacked with crudites.

I recently tried a slightly meeker green verbena harissa made with a citrussy plant that I’d used before only to make lemon verbena tea, but apparently there is a Moroccan variety, which can be blended with spinach, coriander, garlic and lemons.

The paste has a vibrant piquancy, which is zesty and quite subtle, but incredibly delicious. It managed to cast its Moorish magic over some leftover veg (roast peppers, aubergine, tomatoes), olives, feta and buckwheat.

However, a note of caution: the verbena harissa is a more subtle affair than its spicier rose counterpart, and is in danger of becoming lost among too many ingredients, especially additional spices.

To do justice to its verdant, herbaceous aromatics, I would recommend using this simply as a dressing or marinade for lamb. Perhaps some anchovies could enter the equation, but little else. Alternatively, it would make a delicious dip – the temptation being to blend it with yoghurt – but the milder flavour means it is just as enjoyable without embellishment.

Belazu sells jars of green verbena harissa but as with pesto there is absolutely no substitute for whizzing up a paste made with fresh ingredients in the food processor. Lemon verbena can commonly be found in English gardens.

Need to know: There are several cookery schools who offer courses based around North African or Indian/Pakistani spices. These include the Cooking Academy in Hertfordshire, Christine McFadden in Dorset, Demuths in Bath and Absolute Indian in and around London.

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