Graham Kerr Recipes:
In re-creating classic regional dishes in our own kitchens, we start, not by looking for an egg laid by a chicken in Thailand, but rather for the herbs that characterize that country’s cooking.
• Spicy Thai Ground Chicken
• Simple Cassoulet
• Ligurian Focaccia
Graham Kerr recently went around the world looking for herbs. After a four-month cruise with his wife on the Queen Elizabeth II, talking to chefs and sampling food in every port, he came home brimming over with the exhilaration of experiencing firsthand how herbs and spices define regional culinary traditions across the globe.
Kerr is a professional chef whose enthusiasm and high-energy style are known to millions through television and books. He first claimed fame as “The Galloping Gourmet”, the outrageous and charming host of a popular cooking show of the same name that was produced from 1969 through 1971. Since about 1972, his cooking style has changed dramatically. When his wife and childhood sweetheart, Treena, had a heart attack in 1986 followed by a stroke in 1987, the Kerrs reexamined their lives, gave up rich food, and simplified their daily schedules to minimize stress. Graham Kerr embraced a very different approach toward cooking, and healthy eating became his battle cry. Today, even with the clever patter that he dishes out at a gallop with every meal, his guests and fans are not likely to be distracted from one essential fact: he cares deeply about serving food that promotes health.
The Kerrs know that the biggest challenge for those who are trying to cut fat, pay attention to nutritional values, and eat the way they know they should is that meals can take on a sameness. Boredom dulls the edge of motivation. Fat grams carry flavor, and cutting the fat can result in a bland imitation of the foods most people grew up with. That’s where herbs and spices step in to fill the flavor gap.
“My kind of cooking cannot be pursued without the use of herbs,” said Kerr, who pronounces the “h” in “herb” because he’s British and doesn’t want to be accused of the Cockney trait of dropping consonants. “As we shrink the meat and protein and fill up our plates with vegetables, we ask more from herbs than ever before. We have to rely more on the flavors we get from herbs and spices.”
Ethnic cuisines are replete with ideas for flavor combinations that can rejuvenate a jaded palate. Everywhere he went, Kerr found regional cooks teaming the herbs and spices that grow in their area with other fresh ingredients from local gardens or marketplaces in traditional combinations that their families have used for generations. “Fresh herbs in season, and dried out of season, make up the most readily identifiable signature of what I call the food of the people. In the past, we might have referred to it as peasant cooking, but that would be politically incorrect,” he said with a hearty laugh.
In Provence, thymes, marjorams, and other herbs perfume both the air and the food of that region in the south of France. The rich agricultural area of Liguria in northern Italy produces sages, basils, and oreganos and a half-dozen other herbs and spices, which flavor many classic dishes. Similarly, star anise, chiles, and ginger are identified with both the agriculture and cuisine of Shanghai on China’s east coast. In re-creating classic regional dishes in our own kitchens, we start, not by looking for an egg laid by a chicken in Thailand, Kerr pointed out, but rather for the lemongrass, cilantro, galangal, and other herbs that characterize that country’s cooking.
Even when cooking meals with an ethnic flavor, Kerr brings recipes into line with modern healthful dietary guidelines. No longer are “fingers of fat”—the Muslim custom of honoring an important guest by measuring the depth of fat atop a dish—acceptable. Since returning from his trip, Kerr has been developing new recipes based on the culinary ideas that he sampled abroad. His exploration of low-fat, herb-filled ethnic foods has led him into a new product line: easy-to-use ground seasoning blends called Ethmixes (part of his Graham Kerr’s World Blends line, available in gourmet food shops, large department stores, and other outlets). His Ethmixes, introduced in a keynote speech in New York last July to members of the American Culinary Federation, have met with a lot of enthusiasm, according to Kerr.
“I really want to introduce people to the joy of getting more flavor from the use of herbs and spices,” he said. Even knowing Kerr’s mastery at marketing his culinary ideas, one can’t doubt his sincerity and his excitement when he talks about herbs. To know that, just sample his food. The three recipes that follow, all of which call for fresh or dried herbs, were developed by Kerr for The Herb Companion. They will transport you to faraway places.
Kathleen Halloran, editor of The Herb Companion, regularly cruises her kitchen and garden in Laporte, Colorado, looking for herbs.