Our favorite Food Editor gives us some tips on keeping your herbs on your kitchen windowsill. And of course, a recipe!
Planting a few herbs for my kitchen counter or windowsill is one of the most mood brightening things I can do for myself for less than the cost of a nice bouquet of flowers- and they last much longer! I don’t know how many times have I bought a bunch of herbs for a dish only to have most of it wilt because I only needed a few sprigs or find myself short one crucial herb in a recipe. I also find having the plants in my kitchen inspiring- why not see what a few leaves of dill or basil does to this salad dressing? Roasting a chicken? Why not stuff it with a few sprigs of tarragon, or slip sage leaves under the skin? It’s there on the windowsill, fragrant and green, just begging to be used. And since I can usually find plants for around $3, if I forget to water them after a while, it’s not a big deal to replace them.
The question is what to plant. I either go with herbs I know I’ll use a lot or try to get some that I want to experiment with. This year I went with classics that I use a lot:
Rosemary-for rosemary roast potatoes, golden brown and delicious
Sage-with pasta with Gorgonzola, walnuts and sautéed sage leaves
Oregano-for pizza night!
Chives-in salads, with fish, chives are very versatile
Tarragon-on roasted beets, poached salmon, or in very elegant vinaigrette
Basil-the summer tomatoes best friend, basil marinara sauce is delicious!
Dill-with a bit of mint, tzatziki sauce is fresh and cool
A few more fun options I’ve enjoyed before:
Lemon Verbena-cook with blackberries for a yogurt-topping compote
Lemon Balm-infuse your lemonade with fresh sprigs
Chervil-like celery in your potato salad? Try this milder flavored herb
Marjoram-like pepperminty oregano, great with lentils
Thyme-toss a few sprigs in with a pot of white beans
Parsley-see salsa verde recipe below
Cilantro/Coriander– salsa anyone?
Containers with drainage holes (pots, coffee cans,) and saucers to set them on
Unbleached paper coffee filters
Small shovel or scoop
Newspaper (to make clean-up easier)
Gather your plants and potting supplies. Roughly measure the bottom of the pots against the coffee filters and cut out circles to cover the drainage holes. This will allow water to drain through without washing all of the potting soil our. Add a couple of scoops of soil to the pot and make a hollow in it, patting and scooping the soil up the sides of the pot to create a place for the plant; you want to plant the herbs pretty deep so that their roots are about ½ below the rim of the pot. Take the herb plant out of its plastic container and gently squeeze the root ball to loosen it up just a little. Put the plant into the hollow in the soil and fill in the spaces around the root ball with more soil. Use your fingers to firmly tamp the roots and soil into the pot so that any empty spaces are eliminated.
Once all of the plants are potted, water them thoroughly. I like to put all of the pots into the sink and use the sprayer to water all of them, leaving them in the sink to drain. I actually do this with all of my plants every once in a while to rinse of the dust, give them a good soaking, and prevent overflow while they drain.
Most herb plants like plenty of sun, although mints, dill, and tarragon prefer a little more indirect sunlight, so place them in a sunny windowsill or countertop. The nice thing about small herb plants is that they can easily be moved around either for more sun, as a fragrant table centerpiece, or if you have limited counter space like me, to make room for other projects.
Herbs really thrive when they are trimmed vigorously and regularly. Pinch or snip the tips of new growth back just above the next set of leaves and use the fresh tips. This promotes lots of new growth and prevents the herbs from putting all of their energy into flowering. If your herbs start getting tall and “leggy” trim them back pretty severely and they will branch out from the point where they were trimmed and become much fuller and bushier.
A great way to use all of your herb trimmings is in a salsa verde (or green sauce) or chimmichurri- fresh and lovely on grilled fish or over creamy white beans or on top of roasted potatoes. I’ve marinated little fresh mozzarella bocconcini in lemony garlicky salsa verde- delicious and so full of flavor!
Feel free to ad lib with the herbs that you like best, but here is a very nice salsa verde to get you started.
Green Herb Sauce
Makes 1.5 cups
3 cups herb leaves (any combination of parsley, basil, oregano, mint, tarragon)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 ounce lemon juice
½ ounce wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or about 3 anchovy filets
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 ounces olive oil
Process everything together in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the herbs are mixed in. If the mixture is too dry to blend, add a few more drops of lemon juice or vinegar and olive oil.
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