Fresh Herbs Add Zest to Any Meal
Most home cooks have a selection of dried herbs and spices at the ready for favorite recipes. Staples like dried oregano, basil, thyme and sage are must-haves during cooler weather, when soups, stews and casseroles take the lead at dinner time. Having fresh herbs available can add a burst of flavor to any dish – as a garnish or main ingredient. Here are some of the easiest herbs to grow indoors and tips for making sure your culinary garden thrives.
One of the most popular indoor herbs, fresh basil is a welcome addition to so many dishes. Stack and roll larger leaves together and slice chiffonade-style to top a savory breakfast omelet. Mince and add to vinaigrette dressing for your salad at lunch. Flavor sauces and tomato-centric pasta dishes with a touch of the Italian countryside. Harvesting basil from the top of the plant and evenly around the sides will keep plants compact and healthy.
Oregano is another Italian staple, but it’s equally at home in Greek and Mexican cuisine. A little of this powerful, pungent herb goes a long way – be careful not to add too much oregano to recipes to avoid an unpleasant bitter flavor. Fresh oregano is especially welcome in marinades for grilled or roasted meat and poultry dishes.
There’s nothing quite like the smell of a few fresh sage leaves rubbed between your fingers to release their oil and fragrance. Fresh sage leaves can be used in marinades and are delicious when sauteed briefly with just a little butter. Use them to top pasta dishes or pork main dishes for a rich, savory flavor.
If you enjoy chicken and fish entrées, you’ll want to try growing thyme at home. Keep your thyme plant trimmed and tidy to avoid woody stems. Use just the leaves in recipes. You can strip leaves from stems more easily by pulling backward, rather than toward the stem end.
Other Herbs to Consider
Cilantro, mint and chives are great additions to a home herb garden too. Be sure to keep cilantro plants in check and don’t let them get too tall. You’re sure to find all sorts of ways to use fresh mint, especially in Middle Eastern dishes and desserts, and you can also brew a soothing cup of tea with fresh mint. Fresh chives make a colorful, flavorful garnish for so many dishes, but especially for eggs, chicken and entrées with white or light-colored sauce.
Caring for Indoor Herbs
Sufficient light, water and airflow are key to keeping your indoor herb garden bountiful and growing strong. You can buy ready-made herb garden kits or fashion your own from small pots, jars and saucers. If your garden is in your kitchen, make sure that plants are far enough away from your oven to avoid heat-related damage.
Water slowly and sparingly – once a week should do – and ensure that your containers allow for sufficient drainage. Check the soil periodically so that plants don’t get too dry, especially basil. Plant just one type of herb in each pot to accommodate different water requirements.
Fresh herbs provide a cheery focal point in your kitchen and they can add immeasurably to the flavor of your meals. Start with the herbs you use most in cooking and expand as your space and culinary curiosity allows.