Along those lines, one thing I can't imagine doing without in the kitchen is fresh herbs. Whether it's using them to pull together a quick and flavorful pistou to use for roasting chicken, adding them to a marinade, making yogurt sauce for summer grilling, or whipping up a fresh cool batch of mint ice cream, fresh herbs can make all the difference between drab... and fab.
Needless to say, although our urban garden isn't very large, we're always certain to make room for herbs. We have a number of perennial herbs (thyme, tarragon, oregano, lavendar, and winter savory) growing in herb beds alongside the house. But, we also plant plenty of annuals and tender perennials like basil, rosemary, marjoram, parsley, and lemon verbena. We plant some between the peppers in our vegetable bed, and we sprinkle a few others among the flowers in the pots on our porch. And when wintertime comes, we make a grand effort to bring some of our favorite herbs inside and keep them alive during the long Wisconsin winter.
But, I can buy herbs in the store. Why would I want to grow my own? you might say. Well, here's a few reasons every cook should have a kitchen herb garden.
- It's convenient. How many times have you had to run out to the store to grab one of those little plastic boxes of fresh basil? How much time did it take you? Just imagine the time you'd save if you could pluck a few sprigs of basil from a pot right outside your kitchen door.
- It will save you money. You spend at least $2 on that little plastic box of basil from the store. You can probably buy a whole basil plant for that price, or slightly more. Buy two or three plants and you'll have enough basil for an entire summer of pesto and marinara sauce.
- They're good for you. Both fresh and dried herbs contain incredible amounts of antioxidants. And research has shown that antioxidants may slow or prevent the development of some cancers, among other diseases.
- Your herbs are ultra fresh -- and you know where they've been. Herbs begin to lose their vitality within a short time after they are picked. So, herbs you pick yourself are at the peak of freshness. In addition, you know that the herbs you pick out of your yard haven't been treated with pesticides or chemicals. They haven't spent hours in the back of a truck, been dropped, mishandled, or otherwise abused.
- It's good for the environment. Gardening automatically reduces your carbon footprint. You're no longer relying on the resources (manpower, fuel, manufacturing, transportation) it took to move those herbs from the farm to your grocery store. And you're not paying a premium to cover the cost of loss on the herbs which, if they are not purchased, are thrown away.
- You can grow really cool varieties of common herbs. Opal basil, Thai basil, lemon or lime thyme, chocolate mint, lemon verbena -- the possibilities are endless when you're the gardener. And the more herbs you have at your disposal, the more creative you can be with your cooking.
Alright, so you've decided to grow a few herbs. Or maybe you have an herb garden that you'd like to expand. Where should you start? Start by thinking about the kinds of foods you love to cook.
- French and Mediterranean fare make use of herbs like basil, tarragon, marjoram, lavender, rosemary, and thyme.
- Italian cooking uses lots of basil, bay, Italian flat-leaf parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, and garlic.
- Asian cuisine makes good use of cilantro, chilies, chives, curry, lemongrass, and Thai basil.
- Mexican flavors include cilantro, savory, basil, rosemary, thyme, chiles and garlic.
- Authentic Indian cooking makes use of a wide variety of herbs, but some of the basics include basil, coriander, cumin, dill, parsley, mint, thyme, sage and savory.
Join us this weekend and learn more about herbs!
We're very excited to be sharing some of our knowledge about the topics of both food blogging and herbs at this year's Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. The festival is a free community-wide event organized by the UW-Waukesha Foundation in cooperation with community groups that include the Waukesha County Federated Library System, the Waukesha Public Library, the Literacy Council of Greater Waukesha and Martha Merrell’s Bookstore.
We'll be participating in two different sessions:
- A panel on "The Art of Blogging" at 4:00pm on Friday, June 18th.
- A presentation on "Using and Preserving Summer Herbs" at 1:00pm on Saturday, June 19th
We're thrilled to be a part of this celebration of literacy and creativity -- and we'd love it if you could join us. But, if you can't make it out for our presentation this weekend, we'd invite you to join us right here on the blog for an herb series that we'll be running every Friday throughout the summer. Our hope is that we'll share recipes, techniques, and interesting tales that will get you thinking about how to make the most of fresh herbs in your kitchen.
What's your favorite way to use fresh herbs?
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