Making Your Own Seasoning Combinations from Herbs
There's nothing I love more than throwing a handful of fresh herbs into my cooking. It's almost an evening meditation for me, pottering around the garden, picking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Bringing the herbs inside the house, giving them a wash, cutting them up and then throwing them into whatever concoction happens to be bubbling on the stove-top that particular evening.
However, some days I don't have the luxury of being able to potter around the garden (or the herbs that I want to use are not in season), so I go looking in my herb cupboard for a combination that I've put together.
The first thing to remember if you want to make your own herb blends is that you should grow what you're actually going to use.
There are so many herbs (ask me how I know this--I want ALL THE HERBS) but as I always say, it's a good idea to get on familiar terms with a few herbs that you know you're going to use.
Take a look at your favourite recipe books, or cast your eye over what you already have in your kitchen's dried herb collection.
Chances are, many of those herbs that you're paying a small fortune for at the supermarket or farmers market, can easily be grown in your own garden. Herbs don't take up a lot of space and they're pretty unforgiving--especially if you're a new gardener.
If you don't think you're that keen on growing your own herbs to use them fresh, just take a minute to think about how much money you could save by growing your own herbs. Not only are fresh herbs full of much more flavour--they're also much cheaper too.
A 7 gram (0.26 oz) packet of dried organic parsley from my local supermarket will cost me $NZ5.79.
I can purchase a parsley plant start at my local garden centre for $NZ4.99. All I need to do is pop that baby in the ground and she'll keep on giving me fresh parsley way past when I'd use the last of the dried herb from the supermarket. And don't get me started on the fresh herbs grown in pots that the supermarket sell. They turn into green-gel in a matter of days.
Best of all, if I let that lovely parsley go to seed in her second year, I'll have all the parsley that I could ever need popping back up for free.
Herbs are generous like that.
If you live in a climate where your herbs won't over-winter well, then all you need to do is harvest them, dry them and you'll have your own amazing, organic herbs available over winter. Or, you could over-winter your herbs on a sunny window ledge. The possibilities ar endless.
Where should I Plant my Herbs?
In a garden, large tub or even individual pots--but make sure you plant them as close as you can to your kitchen. You want to be able to see your herbs and get to them easily. That's the key to making sure that you're incorporating the health-giving goodness of these little plants into your meals.
I've got some tips about starting your kitchen herb garden here.
How Much Space Do I need?
Not a lot. Unless, of course, you develop an out-of-control-herb-habit like mine!
Like I said above, you can easily grow herbs in an old food-grade bucket, or container. I've even been known to grow herbs in cardboard boxes until I got my gardens in place.
What combinations should I grow?
Most people have heard of the combination of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. This combination is probably made more famous by the song than an actual herbal blend. But try it, you might like it.
With herbs it's all about experimenting to find what you like. That's the beauty of growing your own, herbal blends you get to a chance to find what works best for you.
Here are a few blends to get you thinking about the possibilities:
Italian Herb Blend
Marjoram, Basil, Rosemary, Oregano, Parsley & Thyme.
The Mediterranean diet is always at the top of the list for 'the diet we should all be eating' and I believe in part it is because it involves the use of so many fresh herbs.
One of the herbs Italian cooking relies heavily on is Oregano (and it is also used a lot in Mexican cooking). Oregano grows like a weed in my garden.
It's part of the mint family and has little runners that get everywhere. It's easy to control and 'weeding' means I have a whole lot of Oregano available either to cook with immediately, or dry and use later.
Basil is another popular herb in the Mediterranean herbal pantry. It's also the main ingredient in Pesto (although Pesto can be made from lots of green herbs--Basil is the most well known).
There are also plenty of variations on pesto available, but it's basically:
a couple of cups of Basil,
half a cup of pine nuts,
a couple of cloves of fresh garlic
Grind all of the above ingredients up together in a food processor.
Then drizzle in olive oil until you get the consistency of a thick, green sauce.
Pesto has an amazing taste and it's incredibly good for you.
Some people like to add Parmesan cheese (but we skip that step in this house).
You can make plenty up when basil is in season and freeze it. Ours never makes the freezer!
It's great on pasta, or as a spread on crackers or bread. Use it like you would any sauce to enhance the taste of what you're cooking.
French Herb Blend
Rosemary, Thyme, Sage & a small leaf of Bay Laurel.
This is a classic combination also known as bouquet garni. I tie the sprigs of herbs together with a string and put them in soups and stews.
The small bouquet is removed from the food prior to serving--but the flavours of the herbs remain.
Looking for something hot and you live in a temperate climate? Try growing cumin and mustard. These are great in Indian and Mexican food and for spicing up a plate of root vegetables.
We don't eat meat, so we're always on the look out for herbs and spices that can add an extra 'zing' to our meals.
It's fun to pop the seeds of both of these herbs in the frying pan and the aroma is amazing.
You can combine coriander and cumin and add them to soups, salsa and beans for an extra delicious Mexican meal.
Pass the corn chips (or the baked kale leaves!)
When you try some of these combinations you'll be amazed how the herbs lift the taste of your food and you'll be adding an incredible amount of nutrition, minerals and trace elements to your food.
Let me know how you go and, if you've got a favourite combination of herbs, I'd love to hear about it.
Love & Lettuce,