Many people are trying to decode the French secret of staying slim even while eating well. One secret is, in my opinion, their use of fresh and dried herbs in their home cooking.
French women will regularly pick up several different types of herbs when food shopping, either in bunches or in small flower pots for their kitchens. Fresh herbs have a natural spot on their grocery list when buying produce. They know how to use them in modern as well as traditional recipes. They also use dried herbs, especially mixes of dried herbs typical to French cuisine. One such combination is “Herbes de Provence.”
The term “Herbes de Provence” is a blend of dried herbs originating from the South of France. The exact recipe can vary according to who is producing it, but it’s mainly a combination of thyme, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, savory and sometimes lavender. This blend of indigenous herbs of the Southeastern region of France, or Provence, is used often in savory cooking. I use it with any barbecued meat, but particularly with lamb. It also goes well with fish and vegetables.
Is it the same as an “Italian Seasoning” blend?
It is sometimes confused as being the same as “Italian seasoning” (basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme and sometimes garlic powder) because it has several similar ingredients. But it’s not the same…
In the US, “Italian Seasoning” is often mixed into tomato sauces, marinades, or sprinkled on pizza and sandwiches. However, this Italian blend isn’t found in grocery stores in Italy! It’s a creation from outside of Italy used to mimic flavors often found in Italian cuisine.
How the French Use “Herbes de Provence:”
The “Herbs de Provence” blend is used in classic recipes from the Provence region, like “Ratatouille” or “Soupe au Pistou.” It’s also wonderful in stuffed vegetables typically found in Mediterranean cooking: zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. These “Petits Farcis,” or stuffed vegetables, can take a long time to prepare because they need to cook slowly at a low temperature. So I’ve included an easier, quick version below.
Two French Recipes With Herbes de Provence:
1. Tomatoes Stuffed with Olives and Semolina
• 4 large tomatoes
• 4 TB of semolina
• 180gr/6oz. of a mix of green and black olives
• 4 TB of olive oil
• 1 TB of “Herbes de Provence” blend
-Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
-Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and scoop out the center.
-Chop the olives in large chunks and chop the tomato filling
– Mix the olives and tomato filling with the semolina, and herbes de provence, add salt & pepper
-Place the mixture in the hollowed out tomatoes.
-Place the tomatoes in a deep baking dish and drizzle with the olive oil
-Cook in a preheated oven for 15 minutes
(Can be eaten hot or cold)
2. “Tian” of Vegetables from Provence (Eggplant, Zucchini & Tomato Casserole)
(A “tian” in Provençal is an earthenware baking dish)
• 400g/14oz. of eggplant
• 500g/1lb of tomatoes
• 300g/10oz. of zucchini
• 1 large onion
• 6 cloves of garlic
• 50g/1.7oz. of unsalted butter
• 1 TB of olive oil
• 1-2 TB of Herbes de Provence
• Salt & pepper to taste
-preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
-butter an oval or rectangular baking dish
-peel the onion and garlic
-mince the onion and only 1 of the garlic cloves and place in the baking dish
-place the baking dish with the minced onion and garlic in the oven for 5-10 minutes
-remove the baking dish and let cool a bit
-wash and cut the vegetables in rounds of the same thickness and, if possible, similar diameter
-place the rounds of vegetables upright in the baking dish in rows, alternating between tomato, eggplant, and zucchini as you build out each row
-place the 5 remaining garlic cloves in between the vegetables within the rows
-drizzle the olive oil over the top
-sprinkle the vegetables with salt & pepper and the herbs de provence
-place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
This is a wonderful and versatile dish to accompany grilled meat or white fish of any kind. It can also be reheated and mixed into pasta!
Where to Find “Herbes de Provence” online:
Several brands are available from Amazon.com:
- Ducros Herbes de Provence from France
- Standing Stone Farms Organic Herbes de Provence (made in the US)
- thefrenchfarm.com “Aux Anysetiers du Roy” Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence are a great introduction to the cuisine of the South of France.
They’re similar to, but not the same as, an “Italian Seasoning” blend. I find “Italian Seasoning” is much heavier on the oregano than the “Herbes de Provence” blend.
As they are dried herbs, “Herbes de Provence” are easy to keep for a long time when stored away from light and heat. So if you like Mediterranean food, and want to add some light French recipes to your cooking, they’ll be a delicious and versatile addition to your kitchen. You’ll use them often.
Another combination of dried herbs typical to French cuisine (especially slow cooking dishes with sauces) is Bouquet Garni.
Other herbs the French use for sauces – often fresh, but sometimes dried – are Tarragon and Dill.
And now you: Have you tasted “Herbes de Provence” or used them in cooking? If so, leave a comment below and let me know!
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