Asian cuisine encompasses the refreshing and often pungent flavours of Burmese, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, Indonesian and Thai cooking. Dishes are mostly an amalgamation of four contrasting flavours — hot, sour, sweet and salty and herbs and spices play an important role in this fusion. Here are some commonly used herbs of South-East Asia.
Chillies are really just tiny capsicums, with a much hotter taste! They grow in sun or part shade and are tolerant of a range of soil types. They also grow well in pots. Keep them moist and lightly mulched through the summer. Chillies come in a range of different ‘temperatures’ and also a range of colours which can look beautiful on the bush. Regular harvest promotes further fruit development. Chillies won’t ripen off the bush.
Plant the beautiful and delicious Thai basil year-round in frost-free zones. It has a subtle ‘licorice’ flavour which is delicious in Thai dishes, but also Middle Eastern-style dishes. An annual like other basils, give it 4–5 hours of sun per day and harvest its flowers to prolong its life. Unlike other basils, its flavour is not sensitive to cooking times.
In the garden, ginger is an attractive understorey plant. It grows best in full shade in a moist, well-drained soil. The rhizomes beneath the soil can be harvested as needed — cut off as much as you need with a sharp knife to avoid damaging the rest of the plant. Alternatively, the whole plant can be dug up and the rhizomes stored in the freezer for up to a year.
This is a citrus tree whose leaves are used like a herb and give an authentic shot of flavour to Thai dishes. They’re also an essential ingredient in green curries, many fish dishes and soups. Care for kaffir lime trees as you would any other citrus, although they seem to be more shade tolerant than other citrus. The leaves have a unmistakable, ‘waisted’ appearance. Kaffir lime fruit is tiny, with dry, pulpy flesh.