Simple ideas to spice up your savoury dishes

2 salt lemonThe lull after the storm after the calm.  I can’t even remember what silly phrase I used. We survived. Another flood. This time six inches of heavy flooding rain. Which is as close to 160mm in new money. I sloshed a bit when I was pouring the water out of the measuring cup in the rain gauge; so I fear it was not entirely accurate.

So I have no time for gardening; I’m too busy mopping up the bathroom floor in the basement which shipped water.

Instead; for entertainment. Here is a little essay on salt. And thank you to guest contributor Sarah Wieben for her pictures and recipe ideas.  If you go to her gallery of paintings and click on France; you will find some familiar images.

A gift from the garden with a briny tang

Don’t you just love this internet swirl of ideas and recipes and experience? Remember when you could only rely on copies of magazines or the black and white supplements of weekend newspapers to get a gastronomic nudge to try something new? Okay, it’s an age thing.

2 sage rosemary saltBut one of the greatest cheats of being a trainee peasant is how heavily I rely on the internet here in my mountain farm. What a storm brews and takes out the power, I lament.  And find myself actually running my finger down the spines of my library of cookbooks for inspiration. But I love the serendipity of not knowing what I’m about to read.

I can’t tell you how much of my leisure time is spent reading fascinating blogs from wonderful cooks and gardeners.  My two favourite for cooking are Meg Bortin’s The Everyday French Chef and Ann Mah’s columns about cooking and eating in France and New York.

And for years I have been rummaging about the blogosphere looking for garden writers who can equally delight. We seem to get more stuck in a rut in the garden world. Mainly because we spend so much time in one spot. Our plots. (Yes, guilty as charged m’lud.)

But one podcaster and writer I look forward to each week is Margaret Roach.  She gardens in  upstate New York so a lot of her gardening does not relate to me, but she spends a lot of her podcast time interviewing other gardeners and experts and is in a continual quest to learn.

And we self-taught gardeners are voracious for knowledge about our plant world. And we spend an inordinate amount of time eating what we grow. 2 sage salt

One of my favourite podcasts was when Margaret interviewed the Canadian writer Gayla Trail from yougrowgirl.com, and talked about herbs and salt.  See what happens. You hear the podcast and then spend ages looking at the links from another gardeners and suddenly the afternoon has gone, the fire needs feeding, you are still in your work clothes, the potatoes aren’t peeled, there are grubs climbing out of the cabbage in the sink;  but boy are you edified and entertained.

And the interview from November 25th 2013 (knowledge is timeless) was all about gifts from the garden. And that had my ears pricked with interest.

Salt. Herbed salt. (And we won’t go off onto a tee hee moment about the pronunciation of Erbed Salt. I live in France, after all.)

Such a simple and brilliant idea.  I have heaps of wonderful French salt and a garden bursting with sage, rosemary and thyme. I tend to make a big batch of this salt in February as it’s the month I cut back my forest of wonderful purple sage. But it’s something you can make at any time of the year.

Gayla Trail is a little less generous with her quantities of herbs, so I double them with my recipe. But beware the original Tuscan garlic, rosemary and sage salt. Unless you are giving this gift away to someone who really cooks, the garlic can go a bit orf after six months of inactivity in the jar. You really need to choose healthy cloves that have nary a blemish if you want this salt to keep.

And I always think of my friend Sarah when I reach for my salt to sprinkle over meat an hour before I cook. She has a fantastic little jar of salt which is a lemon zest salt. Every time she uses a lemon and doesn’t need the zest, she just grates the aromatic lemon into her pot of salt, gives it a stir and there it is.  Heaven in a jar. She sent a picture of her workbench where she prepares her salts and just looking at it makes me inspired.

Here is what Sarah sent me as advice on her salty concoctions: One does have to use flake salt.  I think your French hand-harvested stuff would work too because it’s very fine.  It cannot be coarse, or even medium grind.  And then one should have a mortar and pestle.  Whenever I have a little zest extra I’ll just throw it in the little pot, but to begin with the two ingredients do combine better if you grind them together.

That is my base and I always have some of that unadulterated, but then I’ll make satellite mixes of lemon-dill-salt, or thyme…oregano+dill is great for a Greek feel.  I also always have some lime-salt on hand to sprinkle over rice with cilantro…lime+chili+salt to sprinkle over avocado…it’s endless.  And for those of us who love salt, it’s a way to dilute the sodium, but increase flavor.  Win, win.

Isn’t that great? It is certainly a great way of using up my gluts of oregano and dill in the potager.

I won’t rattle on. But you are about to be launched into your own adventures.  Here is a salty version of Gayla via Margaret via me to you. And the best way to chop the sage and rosemary is not with a food processor, but with a heavy knife; you release the aromas better this way.

The ingredients below make one jar. I tend to do a big batch and pack them into clean (preferably sterilized) jars to give away to friends.

Tuscan Salomoia (Herbed salt)

2-sage-rosemary-salt


1 cup course sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove very finely chopped garlic (optional)


Chop your herbs, add them to the salt and stir well. Spread them onto a baking tray lined with  parchment paper and leave to dry for a day. Omit this if you are in a rush, it doesn’t really affect the quality of the salt but it makes the kitchen smell fantastic.
Pack the salt mix tightly into a jar and either store in a dark place for a few months if you are going for the garlic version. Or just place close by your stove for an instant lift to any meat or vegetables you grill or roast.