I love my herbs. I love the first tender spikes of chive that sneak up through the snow in the Spring, I love the masses of mint that take over our neighbors side-yard (which we use a few times a week for frosty mint (black/rasp/strawberry limeade), and the huge heads of dill that start tipping too early for my cucumbers that I started too late. This is all awesome, you say, because I have a huge garden, right? I do, but that garden is 2 1/2 miles from my house behind a church. It isn’t so very convenient for herb use unless one is really organized with perfectly planned meals. That, I am not.
But! I have a tiny patch of ground in the front yard of my two-bedroom townhouse (I like to throw that in there to feel like more of a martyr) and three planters with herbs in them. In my tiny space I have marjoram, thyme, sage, peppermint, pineapple mint, lavender, tarragon, coconut thyme, oregano, chives, unrelenting lemon balm, and rosemary – and I use them all the time. I have tried unsuccessfully to grow other edibles out there, but to no avail. It all dies. It’s like it knows I have another garden and gets jealous. But my herbs are content to grow and be and bring me great joy – except for my rosemary which must hate me (or Utah winters – more likely).
How do you know what to use? First, consider what you’re making or what veggies you have are or what you want! Does it hail from the Mediterranean? Asia? Middle East? South America? Think about what herbs you’d find used there. Are you in the mood for potatoes or a salad – or both (I make a killer herbed potato salad)? Can you throw a handful into a loaf of bread or stirred into your quinoa after cooking?
Second, what do you have? Does your neighbor have mint growing like crazy (it’s the only way it grows), or can you dig out a start from your friends thyme or oregano or chives? Most people I know are more than willing to share herbs. Use what you have and it can turn any vegetable into something you’ve never dreamed of.
Third, smell your herbs. They’re most pungent first thing in the morning or if you’re doing a big harvest just as the flowers bloom. If you want to mix herbs, crush a few of them together in your hand – do they smell good? Excellent – use them! If not, try another combo, or just use one. You will quickly learn that lavender and curry plant DO NOT go well together, but that thyme and chives and mint do!
Fourth, don’t be scared to try them!!! I’ve screwed up meals that had perfectly good recipes to follow, so I’m willing to screw some up that don’t too. Odds are good that you won’t be disappointed, but if you are, the loss is usually bearable.
Fifth, and very importantly, don’t add them too early! Spices need to be exposed to high heat to bring out their flavors (blooming them), but herbs just want to be warmed to release their very fragile oils.
If you don’t have herbs growing, now is a good time to find them cheap or to dig out a start from a neighbor’s plant for the perennials (oregano, thyme, dill, tarragon, lavender, rosemary – if it doesn’t die like mine, and mint). If you don’t get them growing this year, they’ll grow like crazy next year. Dill, cilantro, and parsley still elude my growing skills (I haven’t tried that hard), but they can be pretty cheap (except for the dill) at the store.
If you’re not sure where to start, start with my favorite use of them, especially right now as we’re up to our eyeballs in potatoes. I love the smallest potatoes for this dish cooked whole, and a variety of colors makes it ever tastier. I try to use four or five varieties, last night using chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and mint (which is the most surprising and amazing addition). With leftovers or if you want to make an extra big batch, my Herbed Potato Salad recipe follows.
(portions are per person – multiply per serving)
¼ – ½ pound baby new potatoes per person, scrubbed
2 T. chopped fresh herbs (mixed is the best way)
1 T olive oil, or butter, or butter substitute
Salt and fresh ground Pepper – to taste
Scrub your potatoes, cutting larger ones into smaller pieces to ensure uniform cooking. Boil or steam until fork tender. While cooking, stem your herbs and roughly chop, tossing into your serving bowl with the oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Drain your potatoes and toss with herb mixture. Serve!
(if using rosemary, chop it finer since it’s a bit tougher than others, and be careful with some of the stronger flavors, like sage)
Herbed Potato Salad
Unlike most potato salads that have a lot of other “things” in them, I keep this one simple so the herbs can show off.
1 4-person batch of New Potatoes with Herbs
2 lbs cooked new potatoes (yukons, reds, blues, whites – just not russets)
½ to 1 c. chopped herbs – mix it up
3-4 stalks celery, sliced thin
¼ to 1/3 c. chopped red onion, if you have it
¼ – ½ c. vegan mayonnaise
2-4 T non-dairy milk, I like almond milk best
1-2 T balsamic vinegar
1-2 T dijon or spicy brown mustard
1-2 T lemon juice
Salt and fresh ground Pepper (so much better fresh, especially in simple dishes like this)
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk them up. Use your blender if you like, I usually just toss it all in a bowl cause I’m lazy like that. Adjust seasonings to your liking – does it taste yummy and is it strong enough to flavor the potatoes without overpowering them?
Toss ALL the ingredients together, and chill until ready to eat – that means the salad AND you.