One of a cooks greatest rewards is having easy access to fresh culinary herbs. There is nothing like slipping out the kitchen door with a pair of clippers to snip a cutting from your own garden. Even during the winter months many culinary herbs can be grown successfully indoors as long as you provide them with plenty of sunshine.
The 10 Basic Culinary Herbs
Starting with the basic herbs can make using them much easier. While I do have my favorites, this was only accomplished with practicing and experimenting with different combinations. I think my first thoughts went towards Italian dishes, where common ingredients for most of them required basil, oregano and bay.
Other common herbs are thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley and dill. You may want to add a couple more to this list such as mint and savory. That would make 10 herbs for the kitchen to cover just about any situation.
Suggested Growing Methods and Conditions
For my own growing preference, I think it best to start new herbs in pots and containers. I call these my mother plants. From the mother plant I can propagate and move herbs directly to the garden and into the landscape. It also gives me the option of protecting them by moving them into different situations.
A perfect example of this would be to protect my herbs from frost. But believe it or not, down in the deep south you have times when you need to protect them from the brutal heat and humidity. For herbs like thyme and mints will find it soothing in some partial shade during these times. Some months may be so hot that bringing them indoors is sometimes a better option.
It is a comfort for me to know that even if some of my herbs don't hold up out in the garden due to extreme weather conditions, I still have my mother plants to work with. I can start more plants by cuttings or for others, simply dividing them up. You may refer to a recent article on container gardening for more information.
Using Herbs to Make Creamy Dressings and Dips
Keeping it healthy as well as delicious is always the general rule of thumb. Avoiding things like mayonaise, sour cream and heavy creams can be done easily by simply switching to a good organic whole Greek yogurt.
Another great base that our family loves is creaming up some fresh avocados. I first got the idea with the avocados from a recipe that our garden friend Mike Lieberman was using on his Urban Organic Gardener blog. He was preparing a healthy garlic dressing that packed a powerful punch!
By using your culinary herbs with a healthy base you can create some wonderful combinations. Adding things like garlic, onions, lemons and limes will add plenty of zest.
But whether you are going for a dressing or a dip is really just a matter of thickness. Thinning may just be a matter of adding a little extra virgin olive oil and perhaps a little extra lemon or lime juice. Depending on what I'm aiming for I might even add a little squirt of organic milk.
The herbs used for my Avocado based dressing were Cinnamon Basil, Cuban Oregano, Lemon Grass and Rosemary. The amount of herbs you use will vary on your own personal tastes. Just have fun and experiment a little.
The same will hold true for how many garlic cloves you use, but you really don't want to leave the garlic out. It seems to pull the whole recipe together. Try starting out with at least 2 cloves, because you can always add more during your taste test.
It's a wonderful and exciting world of herbs! Once you have the basics down you really should try some of the other varieties. Oregano comes in several forms, each with a little different flavor. There is Greek Oregano, Mexican Oregano and Cuban Oregano just to name a few.
Herbs with lemon flavors are always a great addition to salad dressings and dips. Keep in mind herbs such as Lemon Basil, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Grass, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm.
Aside from salad dressing, try this recipe as a dip with some of your favorite fresh vegetables. We found it extremely delicious with some sticks of zucchini and patty-pan squash and even mushrooms rolled in a little batter and fried as an appetizer.
2 or 3 Garlic Cloves
2 to 3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large Juicy Lemon, squeezed (Lime may be substituted)
Fresh Herbs (Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary)
Sea Salt or Kosher Salt to taste
Organic Milk (Optional)
Whole Greek Yogurt (Optional)
Scoop out the avocado and add to the food processor. Drizzle in the Olive Oil. Peel and diced garlic, toss it in. For the herbs remove leaves from stems. Squeeze in lemon juice and add your herbs and salt. Whip it all together and taste it for adjusting to your personal preferences. To thin it down simply add a little milk or thinned yogurt a little at a time until you get the desired consistency. You may enjoy a little extra lemon juice for thinning or additional yogurt for extra creaminess. .