My Herbs and I: A Complicated Love Story
Once upon a time — a couple of months ago, in fact — I tried my hand at growing a series of herb plants on the galley kitchen’s big windowsill. I’m a fan of growing and cooking with fresh herbs whenever it’s feasible (check out this post for more herbalicious ideas!), and with pots, seeds and soil in tow, I made my move.
My main focus when I started was on cilantro and flat-leaf parsley. A few weeks later, I added two more pots with oregano and “anise-scented basil.” After two months of tending, watering, and one episode of mourning (I may have tragically killed my cilantro), here’s a photo update on my herbal babies’ growth:
Parsley: The Little Herb That Could
This is my hardy little red pot o’ parsley. I picked up this bad boy at the grocery store, which means it was about 3/4 this size already when purchased. Can’t say my green thumb did much of the work, but I try to keep abreast of these parsley growing tips (adapted from the wizards at gardeningknowhow.com):
- Make sure soil is well-drained; adding a handful of sand to the pot can help optimize drainage.
- Grow in a full-sun to partial-shade area, ideally in a south-facing window.
- Turn the pot every 3-4 days — otherwise, your leaves will all lean in one direction!
- Humidity helps parsley grow; a kitchen, with cooking steam and heat flowing through regularly, is a great location.
Parsley is delicious as a garnish or ingredient in pesto (try with romano cheese and almonds), tabbouleh salads, pasta sauces, and with lightly cooked or grilled meats.
Cilantro: Viva Mexico! And Thailand!
Cilantro has a distinct, piquant flavor that some of us — namely me — find irresistible, but others — like, sadly, THT — think it smells like soap. As my Grandpa used to say, “Well, more for me!” My cilantro grew pretty well … and then it grew, and grew, and GREW until … it flowered. Bloomed. Became a blossom, resulting in edelweiss-esque petals that were, in a word, unexpected.
Then, not long afterward, my cilantro died. I’m planning on re-using the soil for a new herb, or to regrow a new cilantro plant.
A few cilantro-growing tips for all of us to follow (from the wise folks at Yahoo):
- Start from the seed if you can; it tends not to transplant very well. (Aha!)
- Keep the roots cool and avoid heavy sun, particularly in the afternoon.
- If your cilantro flowers like mine did, cut off the flower heads, concentrating growth in the leaves.
- When harvesting, cut at the ground level for optimal continued plant growth.
In the meantime, fresh cilantro (either from the grocery store or from your own herbs) is absolutely delicious in Latin-based dishes, including guacamole, seafood or chicken marinades, ceviche (citrus-“cooked” fish or shrimp), or even as a garnish over rice or other grains.
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As you’re growing your own herbs (or picking them up from the store — no judgment here, friends), here’s a fun recipe to try. While it works best flavor-wise with parsley, basil, or oregano, you could make it work with cilantro or a number of other herbs. This Balsamic and Herb Eggplant side dish pairs well with grilled chicken, steak tips, or some whole grains mixed in. (I’m thinking farro, wheat berries, or Israeli cous cous.) Enjoy!
Balsamic and Herb Eggplant
Serves 3-4 as a side dish; easily doubled or halved
- 1 large eggplant
- 3-4 Roma or plum tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp basil, chopped or cut into a chifonnade
- Grated lemon peel, for garnish (optional)
- 1 tsp chopped capers, for garnish (optional)
Here’s what you do:
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray, or drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Prepare the eggplant by peeling (optional), then cutting into 1-inch chunks. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Dice tomatoes; arrange among eggplant chunks. Drizzle all veggies with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for 10-20 minutes, or until veggies are browned and soft.
- In serving bowl, combine lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, 1-2 tsp olive oil (optional), Parmesan, and herbs. Whisk together to create a “dressing.” Add roasted veggies and stir until well-coated.
- Add lemon peel and caper garnish, if desired.
What sorts of herbs are all y’all growing in your gardens or on your windowsills? Do you stick to grocery store packages, or have you ventured into these early steps of growing your own produce? Tell me more! Can’t wait to hear your stories. 🙂