Living in Texas gives me the advantage to grow almost anything at any season. My balcony is my ‘garden’ and I have to say I have been successful with my herbs. We use lots of fresh ingredients in our cooking, so having herbs available year-round is pretty fantastic. I grow my herbs using organic seeds and organic soil. The hot weather and humidity fastens up the growth and my herbs are budding after just 4 days.
The herbs I am currently growing and their culinary use of them:
Dill: Dill seed, can in some ways be quite similar in taste to to caraway but also containing flavors of fresh or dried dill weed, is used as a spice. Dill is the star ingredient in dill pickles – cucumbers preserved in salty brine and/or vinegar. Dill, like many other herbs, is has a unique flavor that can be used on many different type of foods and condiments to create a seasonal “vibe”. For instance, it is very common to serve new potato with dill during summer time or as a the main flavor in cooked dishes like game stew during Fall and Winter.
Cilantro: This fast-growing, aromatic, herb that could be planted anytime of the year. With that said, it enjoys the cooler weather of spring and fall. The fresh leaves are an ingredient often times used in Asian, Latin and Mexican cuisine; Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Colombian, Ecuadorian, etc. No matter the country, you will find cilantro in salsa, sauce, dressing, soup, bread, rice, and so on.
Basil: When using basil you will notice it is a very fragrant herb. Basil is almost synonymous with Italy and its super delicious cuisine – pesto lovers know what I mean! This herb actually come in several shapes and colors but most of us are more familiar with sweet basil. Basil lovers – like myself – know there’s a difference between the other ones though; purple basil (less sweet) lemon basil (lemony, duh!) and Thai basil (licorice/anise seed flavor). If you are interested in trying out one of the other types of basil, either visit grocery stores with a more specialized selection (Central Market, Vitamin Cottage, Whole foods, Sprouts) or an Italian and/or Thai store (who where I’ve been normally carries both sweet and Thai basil). Last but not least, when growing basil, please be sure to keep harvesting the leaves to keep the plant going strong.
Rosemary: Rosemary is a very aromatic herb native to the Mediterranean countries of Europe. It is commonly used as a flavoring in foods, fresh and/or dried. Most often, you will find rosemary sprigs and/or leaves served with lamb, pork, chicken and turkey dishes (especially in stews). Although often times used with some sort of meat, it is quite the flavor enhancer when cooked/served with panfried/oven-baked potatoes too.
What most people forget is that rosemary is quite the versatile herb! It is not only used for food but can also be found in cleaning supplies, herbal remedies, teas, and pure essential oil. If you aren’t too familiar with this herb I definitely recommend you give it a shot.
Tarragon: Did you know Tarragon is a member of the daisy family? (I didn’t until I started reading about how to plant it) Tarragon is considered one of the four fines herbes of French cooking and goes very well in chicken, fish, and egg dishes. Aside from being the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce, it is also known for its ability to aid in digestion – so what better herb to use when eating!
Sage: This aromatic herb, with a slight earthy tone to it’s flavor is a member of the mint family. Culinary sage, the one we cook with, is highly aromatic is believed to be better used when fresh, when its flavor has been described as a mix of rosemary, mint, pine and citrus. When you dry culinary sage it tends to bring out a very strong flavor, the kind that is so strong that very little goes a long way. Side note: it is paired best with butternut squash – my personal opinion.
Lovage: Native to Southern Europe, Lovage is probably on the unknown side of herbs when it comes to most folks out there. Its flavor and smell can be described as an extremely intense version of celery and parsley combined. The seeds can be used as a spice, fresh and dried, similar to fennel seeds.
Oregano: Yet another lovely Mediterranean native plant. Oregano is a very aromatic and powerful herb, known for its antiviral properties as well as it super tasty flavor in cooking. This herb goes very well in salads, tomato-based sauces, dressings and with poultry.