Spring is finally here and we are looking for light, fresh flavors to revive our tired winter palates.
Not only are herbs a cornerstone of cookery, they are packed full of vitamins and antioxidants. One serving of parsley can provide you with 50% of the RDA of Vitamin C and thyme and is packed full of magnesium.
It’s almost impossible to buy herbs organically in a supermarket and they are among the most toxic produce in terms of pesticides. For this reason, it’s best to grow your own – plus, it couldn’t be easier!
Even the tiniest of kitchens can propagate a useful kitchen garden, there are a number of clever ways to use space even if you don’t have a balcony or garden. A windowsill that receives good sunlight will hold a number of potted plants. If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony or garden then you’ll have lots of space to grow your herbs.
Chives are the easiest of all the herbs to grow and maintain, and are ready to be planted now. You can grow them indoors or outdoors as they can adapt to cooler temperatures. They have a light onion flavour and can be used in salads, soups, omelettes and almost anything else that needs a hint of garlic or a herbaceous punch. They work classically in potato salads and with egg mayonnaise.
Basil is most frequently associated with Mediterranean cooking and comes in many different varieties. The most common is sweet basil, which has big green flowering leaves. This herb is probably the most temperamental to grow and needs to be kept indoors within the reach of direct sunlight and watered less often that than other herbs. Basil has a fresh, peppery flavour and works exceedingly well with tomatoes. For a simple Caprese salad, layer basil leaves with sliced mozzarella and tomatoes, season and drizzle with a good olive oil. Perfect spring food!
Rosemary is the most resilient of all the herbs and has a sweet aroma and deep woody flavour. It can adapt to cooler temperatures so can be grown very successfully outdoors. When cooking with rosemary, remember that it has a very strong flavour so only use one to two sprigs per dish. This herb is best used when roasting foods, whether it be a chicken, potatoes or vegetables. Try adding a few teaspoons of honey and a couple of sprigs of rosemary to coat chopped butternut squash before roasting – the woody fragrance marries with the sweetness perfectly.
Dill is known for its health benefits and is one of the most nutritionally beneficial herbs you can eat. It has a wiry texture so needs to be chopped finely when used in cooking. It has a distinct anise flavour, similar to fennel. Dill works best with fish. Mix with some crabmeat, crème fraiche and lime juice for the most delicious spring crab salad.
Another woody herb, thyme is one of the most versatile and can be grown both indoors and outdoors. Most suited to cooked food, it tastes amazing with all meat. For a delicious alternative to ketchup, roast it with cherry tomatoes, garlic and olive oil until the tomatoes begin to disintegrate.
A great multipurpose herb that loves sunlight and plenty of water. Parsley can be used to enhance the flavour of the majority of foods, both cooked and raw. Use liberally with seafood, pasta, soups, stews and salads. Ground with nuts and breadcrumbs, you can make a delicious crust for roasting salmon or hake.
You can now buy pre-potted baby herbs in garden centres and even some supermarkets, so it’s easier than ever to start your own kitchen garden. And with the sun just starting to shine again, now is the time to begin.