Green Eats: Herbal essence

Wake up to smell the herbs in your garden; it’s a great start for any day.

By PHYLLIS GLAZER
July 18, 2011 09:11
Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs. (photo credit: Courtesy)

I never used to be an early riser, but in recent months I seem to awaken earlier than usual. Sometimes I think it’s because my body has finally accepted Circadian rhythms (old age?), but between you and me, I think it really has something to do with my relatively new herb garden.

Actually, I’ve been growing fresh herbs organically for some time now. I have lemon, grapefruit and orange trees growing in large pots that until now have produced about four or five fruits each. But this year I put in a drip-watering system attached to a jerry can of organic fertilizer, and my plants are showing deep appreciation.

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“I’m happy with the way everything’s growing,” Gil the gardener tells me, “but when you’re growing organic, you have to be on guard every single day against pests.”

He is right. Little tomato worms, for example, are perfectly happy to devastate a mint or basil plant when necessary, and fungal-type growths can appear overnight on the sage leaves. Sometimes, homemade treatments like a garlic-based spray can be enough, and other times one must rely on commercial organic treatments.

So (almost) every day upon awakening, one of the first things I do is check each and every one on the patio to make sure they’re still intact, remove the flower buds from the herbs (flowers weaken the herbs) and pick leaves for my morning tea. The best time is early morning, when the air is still cool and the birds are singing. Remember, you don’t need a garden to grow fresh herbs. Even a small porch or a sunny window will do.

What to grow

The best fresh herbs to grow are the ones you’ll want to use for either culinary or medicinal purposes. Sage (marva in Hebrew), for example, is a hardy plant, good for Italian-style dishes and stomach-soothing tea. Mint (nana) is refreshing, calming and cooling in summer. Thyme (timin) is great with cheese dishes, tomato and/or pasta dishes, and made as tea will help alleviate coughs (thymol, the active ingredient in thyme, is also found in conventional cough medicines).

Lemon thyme (timin limoni) is a more sensitive form of thyme with a lovely lemon scent. Basil (bazilikum) is an all-round favorite, great for salads, pasta and cheese dishes; and oregano (oregahno) and hyssop (za’atar) are good on almost anything.

Lemon verbena (louisa) has a pleasant lemony taste that is delicious to scent water or as a tea, but it can also be used in fruit salads.

And that’s just for starters. Some plant nurseries have chives (irit), garlic chives (shumit) tarragon (taragon) the more exotic curry leaf plant (alei curry), lemongrass (esev limon) and lavender (lavender), which is delicious in tea.

Use herbs every day:

❃ Make herb butters

 ❃ Make herb-infused oils (blanch herbs first to avoid mold) or vinegars.

❃ Dry fresh herbs by tying the stems together and hanging them upside down out of sunlight till dry. Use for seasonings or herbal infusions.

❃Make and freeze pesto with different herb combinations. Q & A Use them in soup, with pasta, vegetables or as sandwich spreads.

❃ Make your own tea combinations with dried leaves, crumble and pack in small jars and give as gifts.

SUPER QUINOA SALAD

Serves 6

This is one of my most successful creations. The combination of quinoa, mung beans, sunflower seeds and herbs makes it a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

✔ 1 cup quinoa (brown, black, white or mixed)
✔ 11⁄4 cups water
✔ 1⁄2 cup mung beans
✔ 11⁄4 cups chopped parsley
✔ 1 cup chopped fresh mint
✔ 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
✔ 1⁄2 cup olive oil
✔ Salt and pepper to taste
✔ 1 cup sunflower seeds, toasted in dry frying pan
✔ Lemon wedges (optional)

Rinse mung beans and place in pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook about 25 minutes till tender but not mushy. Drain. Rinse quinoa in a wire mesh strainer and put in a pot with 11⁄4 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over lowest heat 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

Add the rest of the ingredients and season to taste.

Serve with lemon wedges. Vary fresh herbs if desired.


Your questions answered

I attended a lecture you gave in Jerusalem, where you said that the best way to store food is in glass containers. Does all food have to be stored in glass or can I use my plastic containers for some things? It says on my plastic containers that they are safe to use in the microwave.

Barry Mintz

The best way to store anything is in glass containers, but the most important things to store in them are oils or foods that contain fats, like tehina. Although technically the plastic containers that manufacturers use are supposed to be safe, the longer a fatty food sits in the container, the more chance there is that the chemicals in the plastic will make their way into the food.

You can use your plastic containers to store dry foods, however, or foods that have very little or no fat (like vegetables for salad). Although many plastic containers say they are safe for microwave use, I would not use them there. I use only glass in the microwave. Better to be safe than sorry.

I have an Italian cookbook that has several recipes calling for fresh Roma tomatoes. Do we have these in Israel? If not, what would be a suitable substitute? Should I use canned tomatoes?

Sandy Alon

Roma tomatoes are agvaniot Tamar – elongated, ovalshaped tomatoes that tend to have more substantial pulp with fewer seeds than the regular salad tomato. They are in high season right now, and it’s really worth buying up a lot and making your own sauces to freeze – much more economical and much more ecologically sound (no cans!). You can also find mini-Roma tomatoes in the markets.

Every time I buy fresh corn, it is tasteless. I have tried cooking it to death and adding sugar to the water, but nothing helps. I remember the street vendors that sold it in the husk and it was delicious! What do you do to get it to taste soft and sweet and creamy?

Sybil Kaplan I think the problem is that husked corn was probably stored refrigerated for too long and the sugars turned to tasteless starch. I suggest buying unhusked corn when possible, peeling back the husk slightly and using your fingernail to test a kernel. If clearish liquid comes out, it should be more sweet and tender (also look for smaller kernels). Street vendors boil their corn for hours in water (and may add baking soda), leaving it with no nutritional value.


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