Five Easy Herbs
Fresh herbs! They are the magic ingredient that can transform a dish from ordinary to special. Why don't we use them more? I think part of the reason is cost. A small bunch of herbs costs as much as a whole head of lettuce, so we hesitate. We think about how we threw out that spoiled bunch of parsley after using only a few sprigs and we back off. The solution is to grow your own, either in the garden or on a sunny windowsill. I'll offer tips on growing and using five of the most popular herbs, along with recipes from Calorie Count members.
The one thing all herbs have in common is their love of sunshine. They need 6 hours of direct sun to thrive. All of them will grow in ordinary soil, with no need of special fertilizers. In fact, over-fertilizing herbs will harm them. Some herbs are grown as annuals and some return each year.
Chive, a member of the onion family, is a perennial plant. Easily grown from seed or from small plants, it forms clumps that send up pretty pink or purple flowers. They require cutting back to the ground in winter, and occassional dividing when the clumps become too large. They are also easily grown in pots. A pot of chives on the sunny windowsill provides plenty to snip and add to baked potatoes and creamy dishes.
Basil, famous in Mediterannean cooking, is grown as an annual. It's also easy to grow from seed, but invest in a few pots for quicker results. All basil requires is plenty of sun and frequent snipping. The more you cut the more you get, as each cut stem produces two more. It's a good idea to plant a succession of basil, because once it flowers, the leaves turn bitter. To prolong the life of the plant, cut off any flower buds as soon as they appear.
Thyme is a perennial and can be used as an ornamental edge in the garden. There are many varieties of thyme, such as lemon thyme and the varigated leaf varieties, but ordinary, culinary thyme is most popular. Thyme is slow to start from seed, so I recommend buying a few plants. Once established, they will return and get larger each year.
Dill is fast growing from seed. You'll want to plant a succession to have fresh dill leaves all summer. It doesn't do as well in pots as other herbs because of it's tall growth and heavy flower and seed heads. You will want to save those seeds for flavoring many dishes, including pickles.
Parsley, unlike the other herbs we've mentioned, is a biennial. That means it flowers the second year after planting. The first year you will have a continuous crop, and the more you cut the more will grow. The clumps will winter over. Here in Pennsylvania, I've been able to cut parsley right up to the first killing frost, and sometimes after. In the spring, you'll get a short crop of fresh leaves until the plant blooms and the leaves turn tough and bitter. That gives you enough time to plant for the next season.
All these herbs add flavor and aroma to our cooking. Calorie Count members have contributed amazing recipes. Here are some of the best:
- Parsley and Red Pepper Dip - Fresh tasting, high in protein and low in calories, this dip is perfect with crudite or toasted pita triangles.
- Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup - Concentrated, rich flavor of roasted cherry tomatoes and lots of basil makes this a soup for fresh from the garden ingredients.
- Cucumber Dill and Yogurt Salad - A fresh new take on old-fashioned cucumbers in sour cream. Yogurt keeps it low fat without losing any of the creamy tart flavor.