Tomasina Miers' coriander-crusted chicken with green tahini dressing: 'Deliciously creamy,' Photograph: Johanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Maud Eden
Perk up your favourite lunch with a big bunch of spring herbs.
We don’t blink about seasoning food with a grind of pepper or a pinch of salt, but when it comes to herbs, we Brits still need some lessons from the Italians. Herbs perk up almost any savoury dish, and many sweet ones, too, so now that the sun is shining (kind of), get those window boxes planted. Grow as many herbs as you can, and use them as copiously as you would salad leaves, in great handfuls, not mean pinches. Here are a couple of recipes in which tarragon is the star. It’s often overlooked in favour of mint, basil and coriander, but with those fresh, anise notes, it’s just as bewitching.
Coriander-crusted chicken with green tahini dressing
Roast chicken oozing with tarragon-laced butter is one of my failsafe weekend lunch dishes, but last week I was in the mood for something lighter, and ended up with this deliciously creamy, herb-laden green tahini sauce. Serves four.
1 tbsp coriander seeds 2 tsp peppercorns 2 cloves garlic, peeled and inner green shoot removed 1 tsp salt 1 small bunch thyme, leaves picked 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 medium free-range chicken 25g butter
For the dressing 1 large garlic clove, peeled Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tbsp pale tahini 1 bunch tarragon, picked 1 bunch basil, picked 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, picked 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 170g tub Greek yoghurt, left in a sieve for 5 minutes Juice of ½ lemon 1 tbsp white-wine vinegar ½ tsp sugar
Heat the coriander seeds in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until fragrant. Bash them in a pestle and mortar with the peppercorns, garlic, salt and thyme until you have a fairly fine paste (don’t worry about the odd rough bit), then slowly work in the olive oil. Rub this all over the chicken, inside and out, and leave to absorb the flavours for as long as you can, ideally overnight.
For the dressing, put the garlic in a mortar with a teaspoon of salt and the tahini, and bash to a smooth paste. With a food processor or stick blender, whizz the herbs and oil to a smooth paste. Combine the pastes, and stir in the yoghurt, lemon juice, vinegar and sugar. Taste, and add salt or vinegar as needed.
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Stuff the chicken with the butter and put it in a roasting tin in which it fits snugly. Roast breast side up for 30 minutes, turn breast-side down and roast for 20 minutes, then turn back breast-side up for a final 10 minutes. At this stage, slash the skin between the thighs and breast to check it’s cooked (if the flesh is pink and oozes pink juice, give it another 10-15 minutes). Once cooked, leave somewhere warm to rest for 15 minutes, then carve and serve with the green sauce.
Beetroot and pink grapefruit salad with tarragon dressing
A bright, perky salad to coax us towards spring. The sharp citrus fruit, spiced nuts, sweet beetroot and fresh tarragon are a rainbow of flavours. Great with fried sea trout or mackerel. Serves four to six.
4-5 medium beetroot (red or multi-coloured), about 500g 2 tbsp rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 pink grapefruit 30g butter 70g almonds, skin on, roughly chopped A few pinches Turkish chilli flakes (or cayenne pepper) ½ small red onion, peeled and very finely sliced 1 large bunch watercress 2 baby gems
For the dressing 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil A few generous pinches of caster sugar 1 small bunch tarragon, leaves picked and finely chopped
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Put the beetroot in a baking dish in which they’ll fit in a single layer, rub with oil to coat and season generously. Cover with foil, bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until tender. Remove and leave to cool a bit, then rub off the skins (wear rubber gloves to stop your hands going pink), cut into bite-sized wedges and set aside.
Meanwhile, cut the bottoms and tops off the grapefruit and, with a sharp knife, cut off the skin and any white pith. Cut out each segment between the membranes directly over a salad bowl, to catch any juice, then squeeze the skin and membrane to release what juice remains.
Heat a frying pan on a medium-high heat and add the butter. Once foaming, season generously and add the nuts and chilli. Toast the nuts, stirring frequently so they don’t catch, until pale golden, then tip into the grapefruit bowl, butter and all.
Toss the warm beetroot in olive oil, sugar and tarragon, then add to the salad bowl, season and serve.
And for the rest of the week…
I’d be inclined to make a fair bit of extra green sauce, because it’s marvellous on roast potatoes, grilled veg, hard-boiled eggs or even drizzled in sandwiches in place of mayonnaise. Stuff a pitta with masses of grated carrot, some chopped spring onion and slices of strong cheddar, and top with the sauce. Leftover roast chicken is delicious simply picked off the bones and fried gently in a garlicky butter – serve with rice, or toss with salad leaves and an egg yolk-enriched salad dressing. The beetroot salad is great on its own, but also makes a lovely light lunch sprinkled with feta.