Separating your soft from your woody…

I’m a big advocate of substituting one ingredient for another; especially if you have surplus of something specific. The same applies to herbs; you can replace basil with mint, or use thyme instead of rosemary however you wouldn’t want to swap out a soft herb for a woody one – the consequences would be truly disastrous (or it might just taste a little unpleasant) 

There are a number of sites that list differences between the two types; but it seems to boil down to the following:

Soft herbs (as a very a general rule of thumb) are leafy, have stalks which are soft enough to eat and can be enjoyed raw (or are best added at the end of the cooking process) This list includes basil, parsley, coriander and dill – In my own experience, these are the harder to grow or to phrase more accurately, easier to kill and therefore I tend to buy more of them from the supermarket. 

Woody herbs in contrast need the stalks removing and are best added during cooking (they are often stronger in flavour and not as pleasant to eat raw) – This would include rosemary, sage and thyme – These typically seem to survive outdoors, being a hardier plant. As such, I usually have more available. 

There are of course exceptions to the rule – mint stalks aren’t that pleasant to chew on, but this would typically be classed as a soft herb. (Mint is also impossible to kill, if you want to grow anything, start here and you literally cannot fail)

Below I’ve included a number of recipes that use fresh varieties of both types – substitute one for another when you fancy, and let me know if you discover any gems


5 ways to use soft, leafy herbs

Too often, I end up with small amounts of multiple herbs; not enough to add to any 1 dish, but too much together to throw away.  Fear not, these can be combined and used together to liven up many a dish.


1: Spruce up canned lentils / chickpeas etc

Add roughly chopped fresh herbs, chopped spinach and lemon juice  to a can of cooked lentils – texture is good here.  Top with yoghurt for a moreish side accompanying fish. 

(Jamie Oliver’s) Salmon wrapped in prosciutto with herby lentils

Salmon wrapped in prosciutto


2:  Channel your inner Ottolenghi:

Top oven roasted vegetables with roughly chopped fresh herbs, olives, feta cheese and pine nuts for an Ottolenghi inspired vegetable dish.

Mix herbs and vegetables with farro, cous cous (or use cauliflower cous cous if you want to pack in more veg) to create a wholesome side dish.

Roasted vegetable farro salad

Roasted vegetable and farro salad


3: Hide wilted herbs in the trusty burger 

If your herbs are a little sad / a little tired / they’ve seen their best but you still want to salvage them – then finely chop and add to meatballs or burgers – this works especially well with stronger tasting herbs such as mint or oregano. 

(Ottolenghi’s) Turkey & courgette burgers

Ottolenghi's Turkey & Courgette Burgers


4: Make salads more exciting:

Add whole leaves to salads – combine with spinach, rocket and / or watercress for a more exciting salad base. Top with whatever you fancy, but sausage is always a winner. 

(Jamie Oliver’s) Chickpea, feta and chorizo salad

Jamie Oliver Chickpea salad

5:  Make pesto:

Basil may be the most popular but this can be made with any soft leafy herb. Try using coriander or parsley or mix herbs with spinach or watercress for a more subtle flavour. You can also experiment with the nuts (pine nuts are expensive after all), use almonds, macadamia nuts or even seeds.  A few blogs highlight parsley with hazelnuts as a winning combination

Asparagus, pine nut and pesto linguine

Asparagus and pesto pasta



5 ways to use woody herbs:

1: Create a zesty sauce to top fish:

An exception to the “do not eat uncooked” rule; using a pestle and mortar and a lot of elbow grease; pound a handful of rosemary leaves with anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil to create an amazingly zesty sauce to top fish – don’t be afraid of the number of anchovies you add. The lemon juice will cut through this and the end result is more similar to an olive tapenade than anything overly fishy. 

(Jamie Oliver’s) Pan roasted salmon, broccoli and anchovy & rosemary sauce

Salmon anchovy and rosemary sauce


2: Make a zesty sauce to top meat:

You can add fresh salsa verde to steak, roasted veg, poultry or fish. Traditionally made with parsley (although you can of course substitute), this version contains rosemary, thyme, garlic and anchovies (are you spotting a theme?) Use this to top a steak, pan-roasted pork fillet or if you’re feeling decadent a pan-roasted fillet of beef. Roast in a hot oven for 10 / 15 minutes and then allow yourself to droooool.

(Gordon Ramsey’s) Beef fillet with salsa verde


3: Transform mincemeat: 

I love sage with any form of pork. Nigel’s original pork mince stuffed peppers recipe uses rosemary but these work as well with thyme, pork or oregano.

(Nigel Slater’s) Roasted peppers with pork & rosemary

Nigel Slater stuffed peppers



4: Bring bold flavours to vegetarian dishes

I’m not a vegan, however I do appreciate the benefits of avoiding meat and dairy – (It is the food equivalent of the holy trinity)  – good for your body; good for  the environment and good for your bank balance. Hurrah! Sometimes though, vegan food can be lacking flavour, but it’s easy to boost this with strong, flavoursome herbs. 

Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Jamie Oliver vegan pie


5: Chips!

Ever been to Honest burger? Then you’ll understand how good rosemary salt chips can be. Whether you keep skins on or off, use standard potatoes or sweet potatoes, chips or wedges; all varieties will taste that little bit better baked with rosemary or thyme. 

(I haven’t managed to take a photo of these yet and I keep eating them before I get the camera out.)