Herbs and spices have been around for centuries. They've been used historically for medicinal, mystical and religious purposes, as well as to flavor food.
Spring is the perfect season to begin an herb garden. Many seedlings can be generated in pots sitting in a bright kitchen window, and later transplanted to either a garden or window box on a patio. An easier way is to purchase herb plants. That way, all you have to do is put them in pots or your garden.
Here are a few growing tips offered by Leroy Wilton "The Herb Man" of the Smile Herb Shop in College Park:
* For herbs that grow best in full sun, use a fertilizer like liquid seaweed twice a month to reduce the stress of being in the sun.
* Slice off the bottom 1/4 of the root base of your potted herb seedling prior to planting in your garden. Slice through the sides of the roots to loosen them as well.
* Fertilize lightly (about 1 tablespoon per gallon of water) at the time of planting the seedling to help it acclimate better.
* Plant early in the morning, but water your plants either before noon or at dusk (5 p.m. or so).
* Pinch the first two pairs of leaves off of basil every 2 to 3 weeks. Pinch off all the large leaves regularly, as well, to ensure maximum growth and bushiness of plant.
Often, famous chefs' "secrets" come from the addition of tiny amounts of unusual flavorings in their dishes. Many expert cooks believe that it's best not to combine more than four herbs in a dish -- you can get too much of a good thing. It's worth a little effort to understand which herbs complement which foods. Here's list for reference:
Basil: Comes in over 60 varieties, but the large leaf Genovese or Genoa basil is most popular. Use basil in pesto, salad dressing, on tomatoes or tomato-based pasta sauces, in herbed butters, with eggplant, zucchini, stews, ragouts and in vinegars.
Rosemary: Unbelievably more pungent when fresh than dried, so try some in your marinades this summer. Great with beef (add it to your stews), pork, lamb, in hearty soups, in tomato-garlic sauces, with roast chicken, in breads or in herb butters.
Dill: Most popular in pickles but great with fish (especially salmon), light sauces, herbed butters, deviled eggs, in breads and in salad dressings.
Oregano: Try it in vegetable soup, in zucchini and eggplant dishes, marinades for beef, lamb or chicken, any tomato-garlic sauces (like pizza or pasta use), cheese and egg dishes.
Thyme: Dries well without losing too much of its wonderful flavor. A versatile herb, thyme is great in soups, egg and cheese dishes, vegetable dishes or with beans, lentils or shellfish. Try Lemon Thyme in your tuna fish or in your salad dressings, anywhere a touch of lemon is needed.
These recipes are from "Cooking With Herbs" by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead; Clarkson N. Potter, 1989.
Simple Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with their juice salt and fresh ground pepper to taste 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Saute oil and garlic in the oil about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and reduce the heat to very low. Cook uncovered about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cook another 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Toss with 1 pound of hot pasta. Garnish with additional chopped basil, if desired.
Dilled Crab Salad in Tomatoes
6 large ripe tomatoes
1 pound lump crabmeat, cleaned
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 small Vidalia onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
dill sprigs for garnish
Slice off the stems of the tomatoes and hollow out. Set upside down on paper towels to drain. In a large bowl, place the crab, and the remaining ingredients and mix well. Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture. To serves, line plates with lettuce leaves and place tomatoes on top with a sprig of dill to garnish.
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped sage
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 1/2 cups canola oil or other vegetable oil
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chili oil
1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted
In a blender or food processor, combine the eggs and yolk, vinegar, soy sauce and mustard and blend for 1 minute. Add the herbs and with the motor running, slowly drizzle the oils in the order given above. Process until mixture resembles mayonnaise. Stir in sesame seeds by hand. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week. Great on grilled vegetables, on fish, in a salad like tuna or salmon or chicken or as a salad dressing.
FOR YOUR GROWING INTEREST . . .
* "Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting and Root" by Thomas DeBaggio; Interweave Press; 1995
* "The Good Herb" by Judith Benn Hurley; Morrow; 1995
* "The Herb Garden Cookbook" by Lucinda Hudson, Gulf Publishing Co.; 1992
* "Herbal Vinegar" by Maggie Oster; Storey Publishing; 1994
* Smile Herb Shop, 4908 Berwyn Road, College Park, (301)474-8791. Summer through Fall.
* Maryland Herb Farms, 9019 Marcella Ave., Randallstown, (410) 922-4261. Open 7 days a week.
* Bittersweet Hill Nurseries, 1274 Governor's Bridge Road, Davidsonville, (410) 798-0231. Open 7 days/week.
* Jones Station Farmer's Market, Jones Station Road and Ritchie Highway, Severna Park/Arnold. Open 8 a.m.-1 p.m., May-November.
Seeds by mail
Call for a catalog:
* Shepherd's Garden Seeds (203) 482-3638
* Burpee Seed Catalog (800) 888-1447
* St. John's Herb Garden (301) 262-5302
* Gardener's Corner (703) 406-2860