quinoa tabbouleh & the minimalist guide to cooking with herbs [5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

quinoa tabbouleh quinoa tabbouleh

A few weeks ago, I got an anonymous request from someone on Twitter asking me to write about herbs. I had also been thinking about sharing my new favourite tabbouleh based on quinoa so it seemed like the perfect time to combine the two.

Actually I quite enjoyed outsourcing the inspiration for a story. If there’s something in the world of minimalist home cooking that you’d like to learn about, please feel free to put a request in the comments.

what is an herb?

Herbs are plants that are valued for their flavour and aroma, not just their nutritional properties. We tend to use the term herb to refer to the green and leafy parts of these plants. Spices refer to the non-leafy parts and can be the seeds, bark, or fruit of plants.

which herbs are essential in a minimalist kitchen?

This is one that comes down to personal preference, like when I wrote about stocking a minimalist pantry. These are just the essentials for my style of cooking and won’t be for everyone.

I love the freshness of parsley and pretty much exclusively use continential, or flat leaf parsley because I prefer its milder flavour to that of curly parsley. Parsley is versatile and used in a variety of cuisines from the Mediterranean to the Middle East. It is commonly finely chopped and used as a garnish to add freshness at the last minute. The leaves can also be used like a salad leaf.

It’s hard to imagine life without basil with it’s wonderfully unique, pungent fragrance. The Italians know how to get the most out of basil with their pesto. The leaves can be used almost anywhere tomato appears but it also goes well with things like lemon and fresh cheese.

Basil is also used widely in Thai food. While Thai basil does have a slightly different flavour profile, I’ve happily substituted Italian basil in my green curry with good results.

coriander (cilantro)
A tricky herb because the seeds are also used in cooking as a spice. I love coriander but know plenty of people who find the intense fragrance offensive. If I am cooking for someone who doesn’t like coriander I usually substitute fresh mint.

Coriander is commonly associated with Asian cooking but is also an integral part of Mexican cuisine. While the leaves are the most frequently used part, the stalks are also delicious and the roots can be used in curry pastes.

A good trick to telling the difference between flat leaf parsley and coriander is that the latter is usually sold with the roots attached.

Chives look like tall, cylindrical blades of grass that have become one of my favourite herbs since I’ve been getting into more minimalist 10 minute cooking. I used to start a lot of recipes by cooking down an onion which takes time. These days I’m more likely to add some chopped chives just before serving to give some fresh, oniony complexity in an instant. While you can cook chives, I think they’re best added fresh at the last minute.

There’s something about the delicate floral aroma of thyme that I just adore. If you were to make me choose my favourite herb, it would probably be thyme. The small leaves can be used both fresh or cooked. I love thyme in stews to add fragrance as things slowly simmer away. It can also be lovely to scatter the leaves over some fresh cheese or a salad. I find thyme to be super versatile, adding fragrance to everything from roast potatoes, to chicken, to tomatoes, to lamb.

I love the piney fragrance of rosemary and the fact that it is pretty low maintenance to grow. The thick, needle-like leaves are best when they are cooked. One of my all-time favourite minimalist pizza toppings is just rosemary with thinly sliced potatoes and garlic. Rosemary can pretty much be used anywhere you would use thyme and they even taste lovely together. You can also use thicker stalks as skewers for kebabs.

which herbs are the nice-to-haves in a minimalist kitchen?

Again, a matter of personal taste, these are the herbs I use from time to time, but could make do without.

I love the fresh aniseedy flavour of dill. And that it looks a little like mini pine trees. The leaves are commonly finely chopped and used with smoked fish, eggs or potatoes. For me it’s more of a Northern European / Scandanavian herb and something that works best on its own.

Chervil isn’t that commonly sold. The leaves look like a very delicate version of flat leaf parsley and the flavour is a mild aniseed, kind of how you’d imagine a cross between dill and parsley to taste. It is used in French cooking and tends to work best with delicate flavours like eggs, fish and soft cheese.

Of the three common types of tarragon, French is considered to have the best flavour over Mexican or Russian. Another of the aniseed family, tarragon is best teamed with delicate foods. I like to make my own tarragon vinegar by shoving a bunch in a bottle of white wine vinegar and allowing it to infuse. The classic use of tarragon is with roast chicken, either in the stuffing or as a flavouring for butter or a creamy sauce. It also tastes good with fish.

garlic chives
Very similar to chives, but with a more garlicky flavour than an oniony one.

As much as I’m tempted to include sage in the essentials, a [minimalist] girl has to draw the line somewhere. Sage is best when it is cooked. I find the raw leaves too thick and furry. Great pan fried in butter until crisp and served with ravioli or gnocchi. It makes a great contrast to the sweetness of roast pumpkin and I love it roasted with chicken or pork as an alternative to thyme.

oregano & marjoram
I’m including these together because my Mum used to grow both and I could never tell which was which. So sometimes I’d use marjoram and at others it would be oregano and I don’t remember any culinary catastrophes. I rarely use these herbs now my Mum’s garden isn’t around any more. Both tend to be more Mediterranean. The Greeks are probably the most prolific users of oregano, although the Italians do like to pair it with tomato.

how to store herbs

Herbs seems to deteriorate faster when they come in contact with water. I’ve tried putting them in a glass of water like a bunch of flowers but it doesn’t work very well, apart from rosemary. Best to wrap in paper towel and a plastic bag and pop them in the fridge.

The more woody herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage are fine if you pop them in the freezer in a plastic bag. Leafy herbs can be frozen as well but remember they’ll be wilted when you defrost them which can be fine for some dishes but not great for things like the tabbouleh below.

If I have a glut of leafy herbs like basil or parsley, I tend to make some pesto or a herb oil to preserve them.

how to prepare & use herbs

Best to prepare herbs in the same way that you would salad leaves: wash and use as salad spinner to dry. Although if they are going to be added to something saucey like a soup or a stew, you can skip the drying step.

For most herbs, only the leaves are used. Although the softer stems of things like parsley and coriander can be finely chopped and added in as well.

I’ve often read that one should tear basil and other herbs rather than chopping them because it ‘bruises’ the flavour. After testing this out, I’ve decided that I can’t detect any difference in flavour so tend to base my chopping v’s tearing decision on how I want the herbs to look. If I’m feeling rustic and chunky, I tear but if I want something finer and more delicate, I chop.

when you can use substitutes

In my mind there are a few different ‘pairings’ of herbs where one or the other can be used almost interchangeably. The end result will taste different but not any better or worse.

parsley & mint
Both these herbs give leafy freshness so I tend to think of them as interchangeable. You could easily use a bunch of mint in the tabbouleh below instead of the parsley.

basil & coriander
This is a little more risky, but it can work well. I’d happily use a handful of either to add fragrance to a Thai green curry or for leafiness in a salad. Coriander pesto can be lovely, although it is a completely different beast to regular basil. For dishes that are more Mediterranean, this swap is less likely to work, so be careful. Some thyme or rosemary may be a better substitute for basil in pastas or on pizza.

thyme & rosemary
I can’t think of a dish where you wouldn’t be able to swap thyme and rosemary. The flavour will be different but equally lovely.

sage & rosemary
As per the thyme and rosemary compatibility, sage is in a similar spectrum.

fresh oregano & basil
For tomato based dishes, both would work well. I can’t imagine oregano pesto would be great.

dried oregano & rosemary or thyme
Dried oregano is much more pungent than fresh and it’s has a similiar range to rosemary or thyme.

chives & garlic chives
No-brainer, really.

chives & parsley
When chives and parsley are being used for colour and freshness, they can be interchanged. But when you are using parsley as a substantial leaf, like in the tabbouleh below, the chives wouldn’t be the best idea unless you are a fan of onion breath.

how to use dried herbs

In a word, don’t.

Although I have used dried oregano occasionally with tomato or lamb with good results, I have found that most other dried herbs are poor imitations of their fresh self.

The only other exception is dried mint in Middle Eastern cooking, but this is a completely different ingredient to fresh mint. Like the difference between fresh tuna and canned.

grow your own

While I can’t claim to have green thumbs, I do have dreams of one day tending a vegetable patch and an orchard. In the mean time, I make do with a few pots of herbs. These days my rosemary and bay leaf tree are the only survivors but am planning to plant some leafy herbs in the spring.

The good news is that most herbs like growing in pots so no matter how minimalist your space, you should be able to grow something.

quinoa tabbouleh

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
quinoa tabbouleh

serves 2-3

I’ve been having a heap of fun exploring the mulit-coloured world of quinoa. I’d be hard pressed to pick my favourite between red, black and good old white. Today I’ve used red for the photo but any quinoa would work well.

If you haven’t cooked with quinoa before, have a look at the post I wrote on 12 things you should know about quinoa.

To fit into my self-imposed 10 minute time limit the quinoa is cooked until al dente, which I quite like. If you prefer a softer texture, by all means cook it for a few more minutes.

This makes a great vegan lunch for 2 or you can use it as a side salad anywhere that you’d use normal tabbouleh. We used it in falaffel rolls recently with hummus – seriously good.

1/2 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
3 green onions (scallions), finely sliced
1/2 cup almonds

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil. Cook quinoa for 9 minutes or until cooked to your liking. Drain.

Meanwhile for the dressing, combine lemon juice with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season.

Finely chop the parsley stalks and coarsley chop the leaves.

Toss together the cooked quinoa, dressing, parsley, green onions and almonds. Season with a little extra pepper.

quinoa tabbouleh


Why not subscribe to stonesoup by email to receive your FREE weekly update.


  • Nice article with detailed info. You can kept the coriander leaves including stems in a tall container or glass that is half-filled with water, throw a grocery bag loosely over the leaves and tie it around the container and refrigerate. Make sure to change the water everyday. This way you can keep the coriander fresh upto 2-3 weeks. This is my personal experience! :)

  • Great tips! I’m hoping to start my own herb garden in spring, I’ll be sure to try out your recipe when it’s in in full swing. :)

  • Having a herb garden is really easy! Take it from Jamie Oliver ;) We grow our own basil at home and throw it in pasta. I’m not actually a fan of basil, and I’m sorry to say that I hate coriander from the bottom of my heart. But… to each their own ;)


  • useful info – I love having herbs in my garden – though I don’t have huge plants so always feel I need to go easy – but it is great for making stock – and for garnishes – as for dried herbs – I have very few but oregano is useful

    and thanks for the great tips on swapping herbs and distinguishing between parsley and coriander – most useful for people like me who don’t like coriander

  • I make a roast chicken that is rubbed with an oregano, garlic, lemon pesto…so there’s an oregano “pesto” for you. http://bit.ly/bBPD0B

    I don’t think I fully appreciate thyme yet (not because I don’t like it—I just don’t eat it all that much). Everyone raves about it. I gotta work on that one…

  • In the US, we call the leafy part of the coriander cilantro, and refer to the seeds as coriander.

    I dry many of the herbs I grow in the garden for winter use, but toss them out once everything gets growing again in spring. They might not have the flavor of fresh, but they’re head and shoulders above those sad little jars in the market. (I’m one of those people who is pretty good at growing stuff outside, but fails miserably if I try to bring them indoors!)

  • I want to thank you for your 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes recipes. Your minimalist way of cooking has been a great help to an older lady who lives alone now and is lactose intolerant to boot. The food on my table is much improved since I discovered your website.

  • kendra
    thanks for taking the time to comment. If only I could get my Dad to follow your example (he’s lactose intolerant as well)

    thanks marie
    I knew about the cilanto terminiology but forgot to mention – will go back and update it.
    and thanks for sharing your experience with home dried herbs – it makes sense that they could taste ok

    there you go – oregano pesto – yay

    good on you for having a herb garden. I understand the coriander aversion but basil? I think you’re the first person I’ve found who doesn’t like it. you’re right – each to their own

    I’m getting excited about planting in the spring too. not too long to wait…

    hi sonia
    thanks for sharing your coriander tips. I think the problem for me is remembering to change the water everyday!

  • Mushrooms are the reason that sage is on my essentials list. They saute away, and when nearly done I throw in a handful of sage and the kitchen comes alive. Yum!!

  • That tabbouleh looks amazing, and I could eat fresh mint, coriander and parsley by the bowlful, but your advice not to use dried herbs grates on me a bit. I certainly think one has to be realistic about what they can and can’t do. Would my tomato pasta sauce be nicer with fresh oregano, basil and parsley? Undoubtedly. Would it taste better if I used no herbs at all, to avoid the dried ones? I suspect not. Does the difference justify buying $10 worth of herbs for a single meal (and then throwing out 85% of them after they’ve been reduced to a brown sludge in the bottom of the fridge three weeks later)? To me, this is not an open-and-shut case.

  • Hooray for fresh herbs – though where I live, growing them indoors, even in winter does not seem to work! I guess the lack of light is a problem…. Still summer means the herb garden wreaks havoc iand tubmbles into the rest of the garden so I am a bit spoilt when it comes to the quantity of sage/thyme/chives/oregano/mint/lemon balm I have access to (if I dry or freeze any I use it as both a herb and as tea through winter/spring) – and the forest out the back is full of juniper (leaves great for smoking fish on the bbq) and the berries for desserts and meat (though digging through the snow for berries can be a bit annoying if I have run out).

    Sage picked from the lawn is the ‘sour’ leaf I like adding to salads and even thai soups if we are running low on limes (though I am not sure if it qualifies as a vegetable or a herb??).

    Basil, Thyme and Mint would be my favorites – fresh thyme tossed in to the porcini mushroom risotto or with sauteed mushrooms for breakfast would have to be the winner. For sweets, Thyme with baked apples or strawberries with basil and balsamic vinegar after dinner are pretty special too.

    I don’t mind dry herbs, I just don’t like it when people add them at the very very end. I think it might be a timing thing.

    Jules, are you able to do a post on flours? I have limited myself to 4 now, but have had up to 9 different types (wheat/buckwheat/rye/barley/chestnut/rice etc etc you get the idea) when I went a bit pasta mad a few years back – lots of ‘interesting’ (not always in a good way) results if I tried using them in different types of baking/pancakes/dumplings/sauces/glaze etc. I know it has to do with starch and gluten etc but am a bit wonky on the details. Ta.

    This post does wonders for my waistline. I visit then have to get something to eat!

  • Thank you for sharing your tips to use hebrs. I also dream of making grow herbs in the garden! Herbs always bring the final touch to a recipe and I would use them all the time if I could!

  • re dill: i agree that it is an unusual flavour often best used on its own, however we use it (in small quantities) mixed with parsley in bean salad with spring onions, cucumber, five bean mix and a vinaigrette dressing, or in a spinach and fetta pie with mint – when used subtly it really adds a further layer of flavour.

  • Quinoa salad is so different and delightful. Maybe I will make this for my dinner guests tonight! My fiance won’t eat parsley though. I know it’s not tabbouleh without parsley though, and I think that much mint would be rather strong. Do you think it can be made with coriander?

    Are you in the A-List Bloggers Club, btw? Something I read in the intro of your e-book made me think you might be a member, but the member blog list is down, so I couldn’t check.

  • hi gabi
    it would be great with a combo of mint and coriander. enjoy!
    and yes I am a member of the alist bloggers club – although haven’t been very active in the last 6 months or so – you’re very observant

    good point, I’ve used dill and parsley together before.

    very jealous of your herb abundance. lucky you.
    great idea to post on flour – will add it to the list.

    hey another claire
    good point on the price difference between fresh & dried herbs. I still feel that dried parsley & basil just add a bit of cardboardness. So for my tomato sauce I’d either use just one fresh herb, depending on what I had on hand OR just dried oregano. but whatever works for you is the best.

    you know i haven’t ever tried sage with mushies – great idea though

  • For anyone who feels inspired:
    Growing Herbs

    I grow mine in a bathtub rather than pots so they have room to self-seed and spread. I’ve been lucky with self-seeding coriander and spreading lemon balm this year, but next season it could be a completely different combo. I’ve also got garden mint, dill, chives, sage, lemon thyme and lemongrass in the same tub, so you fit quite a lot in and still have some room for them to spread.

    Some of your favourite herbs are handy to have around for medicinal purposes, too. Thyme tea can be used to treat coughs and colds and as an antiseptic wash for cuts, scrapes and bruises. Rosemary tea eases headaches and tension and is supposed to improve memory and concentration. Oregano poultices reduce bruising and inflammation, but don’t use it if you’re pregnant. Believe it or not basil is a useful herb for treating insomnia…

  • “which herbs are essential in a minimalist kitchen?
    This is one that comes down to personal preference.”

    Exactly! It’s so totally based on what you cook that it’s really impossible to say if you don’t know someone.

    @ Sonia (7 spice) I too have had good luck keeping my coriander in the fridge in a glass of water with a bag on it’s head, lol (poor thing). I would love to have a herb garden and I do aspire to do so soon but must overcome the plain facts that I’m basically a plant killer.

    @ JulesyYou’re very creative. I’ve never eaten quinoa before though I’ve seen it selling. Perhaps I’ll give it a try.

  • Greetings from Syria! Just a small correction: you differentiate in your post between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. Without defining the terms a little better, they seem to overlap a huge extent! The reality that the various countries around the Mediterranean share many ingredients and dishes means that we needn’t build castles in the sand, clinging to differences that are more in our minds than real. Heck, there are even shared traditions between what I think you would call Mediterranean (think Greece) and what I guess you would call Middle Eastern (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine): hummus, ouzo aka 3araq, grape leaves, and the list goes on. These are shared “across the divide” (i don’t think there’s a clear divide to begin with) to the exclusion of other countries on both sides of the divide (say Spain and the Persian Gulf). Terms are dangerous!

  • woops – reread my post. I meant sorrel not sage in the lawn – hope all is forgiven.

  • woops – reread my post. I meant sorrel not sage in the lawn – hope all is forgiven.

  • What an informative and well-written post! There’s so much information here that I’m going to print it and keep it in my kitchen reference library. For novice’s like me, this is a great post to learn so much from. Thank you for all you do :)

  • I would love to have all the herbs in the world available at my fingertips. However, it is just not possible for a poor uni student like myself! Are there any herbs that ARE okay dried? I tend to keep a stock of dried herbs and use them when I need to, I tend to only buy basil and coriander fresh!

  • i ate this with toasted pita chips sprinkled with za’tar and sea salt. delicious! thanks for the recipe!

  • I made this tonight!! I was trying to use up some fresh produce so I added some spinach and green peppers. It was great although my brother’s evaluation was that it tastes “healthy”. :)

  • i will search to make sure you didn’t already do this, but i would like a simple recipe for saffron – i don’t get its preciousness – i think it tastes like plastic or metal or something…just think i must be missing something and need to taste it in something that makes it shine. (: of course i haven’t used it in so long it probably isn’t still shining anyway (: p.s. i’d prefer something vegetarian as i am not big into seafood (:

  • Thanks Jules as always a very informative guide to herbs and their uses ? I have just started growing herbs and I must admit they are a lot tastier than using the ones in jars. Always enjoy reading what you write and trying your recipes

Comments are closed.