Make the Most of Your Herb Garden

There’s nothing nicer than having access to a few pots of fresh herbs growing in your kitchen, and a big basil or oregano plant in the garden – we love being able to add fresh herbs to our cooking at a moment’s whimsy. And if you have a few plants outside that grow really well (or if you get big bunches of herbs from your CSA box or at the market), you can let your herbs take center stage. Some people make pesto out of every herb or green that enters their kitchen. Basil certainly shines in classic pesto sauce, and many herbs and greens taste wonderful prepared this way as well. But there are so many other sauces and salads that utilize specific flavours to their best advantage. Here are just a few.

TABBOULEH

1 or 2 bunches finely chopped parsley (flat leaf parsley is more traditional, but the curly stuff works just fine)
1/2 cup of chopped fresh mint (optional)
2-3 Tbsp fine bulgur*
1 chopped firm tomato
1 small cucumber or 1/2 a large one (if you’re making a big batch you may want to skip the cuke, as it tends to make the salad more watery the longer it sits)
1/2 onion or 2 scallions chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Finely chop the herbs on a cutting board, or in a food processor. In a large bowl, mix bulgur, chopped tomatoes and cukes, chopped onions/scallions with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the parsley, mint and olive oil and mix, adjusting seasoning by adding more oil and lemon if desired.

*You can vary the amount of bulgur quite a bit – add a lot more bulgur so that it’s more of a main dish salad, or if you’re serving it as a side dish and want to highlight the astringent sharp flavours, you could leave the bulgur out altogether.

SPICY CILANTRO (HARI) CHUTNEY

1 big bunch of chopped cilantro
3 green chopped chilies (or less, depending on your tolerance to heat)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 inch ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oil
1 tsp sugar

Blend all ingredients, except the cilantro, into a paste. Add the cilantro, a little at a time, and blend. If needed, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. The water will help in blending. Blend well and add more salt, green chilies, or lemon juice to taste.

You can make hari chutney in large quantities in advance and freeze it in ice cube trays. When ready to serve, defrost as many cubes of hari chutney as needed. If you freeze the hari chutney immediately after preparing, the chutney will not lose its bright green color and freshness.

RHUBARB SORREL CRISP

4 cups rhubarb (chopped)
2 cups sorrel (chopped)
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp orange peel, grated
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine rhubarb, sorrel, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla in large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium and cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Dissolve cornstarch in water. Add to rhubarb mixture and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Set aside.

Mix together remaining ingredients until crumbly. Place about 3 1/2 cups of the mixture on the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. Cover with the rhubarb/sorrel mixture. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 30-40 minutes.

HERB-INFUSED OIL
Great for gifting!

First step in the process is drying the herbs. Check out our previous post if you’re not sure how to do this. It’s optimal to give your herbs ample time to dry out if using them for herb-infused oil. If there’s any moisture in the herbs there’s a chance of bacteria growth in the oil and spoiling the bottle. For this reason, it’s unadvisable to add anything extra like garlic or peppers unless you plan to store the oil in the fridge and use it within a week after you make it.

When selecting your herbs, simply use what’s in abundance in your garden, or any combination of herbs that you like to eat. Olive oil is a common choice of oil to use but a lighter oil (such as expeller-pressed grapeseed or canola oil) will allow the flavor of the herbs to be more prominent. Once your herbs are dry and you’re ready to make your oil, start by washing and drying your containers. Mason jars work well for this. Make sure that the jars are completely dry so that there’s no water for bacteria to grow in. Add your herbs into the clean jars and bruise them gently with the back of a spoon, allowing their flavors to release. Then fill the jar with the oil of your choice and seal it.

Allow the jar to sit in a cool, dark place for a week or two to allow the flavors to infuse, tasting it every so often to see if it’s to your liking. You can then strain the herbs out and discard them, or leave them in there for aesthetic appeal. Herb-infused oils can be used in salad dressings, on pasta, or in anything that you would typically use oil for, to give your dish an extra flavor boost. The final product should be good for a few months after you make it.

Updated from posts originally published in 2011, 2012 and 2014

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