Home-grown herbs, dried or used fresh, spice up your meals

May 15, 1994|By Mary Carroll | Mary Carroll,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

On a sunny windowsill or planted outside in bright pots, fresh herbs are a wonderful addition to a cook's kitchen.

Even though my outdoor garden boasts dozens of herb plants in summer, I have a year-round herb garden by my kitchen stove that gets transplanted outside as the weather warms. A terra-cotta planter sits under three grow lights in an unused corner of the counter between stove and dish drainer. My favorite -- and most often used -- herbs are planted there. They yield harvests all 12 months of the year.

Rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano, chives, marjoram and basil are my choices for cooking herbs to have on hand. The main requirements for keeping them healthy are good drainage and plenty of light. Heat and light pull an herb's protective oils into the atmosphere, shielding the plants from disease and insects.

When you start herb plants for cooking, most potting soils are fine because they have the nutrients to let the plants develop strong roots.

When your herb plants look healthy and show plenty of new growth, you can begin cutting sprigs to use for recipes. Fresh herbs are less concentrated than dried, so you use twice as much. If the crop is abundant, you can also dry your own fresh herbs for storage.

Gather the bunched herbs and tie stems together with string; then hang upside down in a paper bag. I put the bag into a back corner of the coat closet for three to four weeks or until the herbs are dry enough to store. The advantage of the sack is twofold: It catches loose leaves and stems that fall off during the drying process, and its porous material allows air to circulate so the herbs don't mold.

jTC Clip (and use) your fresh herbs often, and pinch back any flowers that try to grow. This keeps the plant's flavor in the leaves (where you use it) and also encourages it to produce faster.

Bitter greens and orange-herb dressing

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 cup shredded red cabbage

1 cup washed, torn arugula leaves (or curly endive or leaf lettuce)

2 cups washed, torn green leaf lettuce

1 large sweet naval orange, peeled, seeded and sliced into rounds

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons minced garlic or to taste

1 teaspoon minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

salt, black pepper

Toss together cabbage, arugula and leaf lettuce in large salad bowl.

Process orange, honey, lemon juice, oil, mustard and garlic in blender. Stir in chives and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over greens. Toss and serve immediately.

Rosemary-garlic marinade

Makes about 1/3 cup.

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

few grinds black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a shaker jar. Let stand 1 hour before using. Shake again and brush marinade on vegetables before and during grilling.

Mary Carroll is the author of the "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook" (Rodale Press).

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