What’s the USP? Your first port of call for anything and everything to do with herbs – from the garden to the kitchen, Herb takes you through every practical question you might have. It also offers a wealth of herb-led recipes to try for yourself.
Who wrote it? Mark Diacono, who has form in exploding a single concept into a deeply useful and entertaining cookbook. His previous title, Sour, won plenty of awards for its exploration of fermentation, flavour and, presumably, Haribo Tangfastics. Herb follows much the same idea, and offers not only straightforward recipes but also an education that will allow the home cook to better utilise our leafy green friends in all their forms.
Is it good bedtime reading? There’s absolutely loads to dive into here – the first ninety pages or so are filled with Diacono’s readable prose, which combines practical ideas with personal experience. A sprawling section details a good number of the big hitters on the herb scene, as well as several more niche options that are close to Diacono’s heart (sweet cicely, scented geraniums). This chapter is worth the price of entry in itself, offering growing and harvesting advice, and a wealth of suggestions for flavour pairings.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The majority of the book is given over to recipes, each built around the herb – though thankfully using them not as a focal point, but for their collaborative flavour boosting properties. Though Diacono writes with a loose and informal manner to his recipes, they are simple and clear, and a delight to follow.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? This will depend very much on where you are sourcing your herbs from. The idea, of course, is to grow a good deal of them yourself, and to cook seasonally in order to make the most of what’s available. If you rely on supermarkets and other food retailers, you may struggle to dig up the more obscure or seasonal herbs here. I’ve not been able to find fresh curry leaves for months now, so as delicious as the Curry Leaf Kedgeree looks, I’ll have to wait a little longer to try it for myself.
How often will I cook from the book? In theory, there’s nothing to stop Herb from being a book pulled out regularly for a weeknight dinner. Dishes like Mackerel with Raisins, Orange and Picada might look restaurant-ready, but could be pulled together over a rather leisurely half hour. Every dish here looks like it would comfortably hold its own on a dinner party table, too.
What will I love? The range of dishes is excellent – there’s a wide spectrum of national cuisines represented, tasty offerings for meat-eaters and vegans alike, and a heftier dessert section than one might expect for a book dedicated to leafy herbs.
What won’t I love? The bouncer at the door, as Diacono refers to himself on a page dedicated to explaining his decisions regarding the inclusion of certain herbs and the exclusion of others. This means that there’s no room for specialised details on the likes of herby seeds, garlic, or other herb-adjacent properties. It also means readers looking for the author’s least favourite herbs will be out of luck. There’s nothing here for fans of lemon balm (“for people who dislike themselves enough not to grow lemon verbena”). But this is a small complaint – the main bases are very much covered, and by sticking to personal preferences Diacono is able to focus on what he knows and loves best.
Killer recipes: Crab and Chervil Linguine, Lamb Dhansak, Green Seasoning Lamb Rundown, Mole Verde, Tarragon and Olive Oil Ice Cream, Thyme and Parsley Honey Bread and Butter Pudding
Should I buy it? An excellent point of reference for anyone seeking to better exploit the rich and flavourful world of herbs, Mark Diacono’s book will prove an indispensable and oft-visited entry on your cookbook shelves.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy the book
Herb: A Cook’s Companion
£26, Quadrille Publishing
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas