This spring, clean out your spice cabinet and thrust aside all those dried herbs. Fresh herbs are easy to grow and add incredible flavor to even the most mundane dishes. Food Republic is in the second week of a comprehensive guide to herbs. Check it out at FoodRepublic.com. If you're thinking of testing your green thumb, read these tips for growing and then the best part of all: eating! Whether you live in the big city and only have room for a little window garden or in the country, an herb garden is a rewarding experience. Getting back to the earth with a plot of herbs all your own makes your food more delicious-and it's the ultimate expression of local food. Here are five herbs that are great for beginners and gardening pros.
1. Thyme: An extremely versatile herb, thyme adds a woodsy, spicy flavor to fish, poultry, and even a slightly savory dessert! Although thyme comes in an enormous number of varietals, start with English garden thyme. A woody perennial that grows close to the ground, English garden thyme spreads like wildfire with little attention. Use in a special fines herbs blend or sprinkled over a beautiful piece of halibut.
2. Basil: While basil's an annual (it requires replanting every year), the plant grows well under a variety of conditions. Sweet as honey and perfumed with exotic spices, basil gives your garden height and color. Mince and add to a pesto or rub on beef for a twist on more classic seasonings.
3. Rosemary: Capable of reaching heights exceeding 10 feet, rosemary is a bushy perennial that needs little loving care. Just dig a hole, plant, and water occasionally during hot summer months. Traditionally paired with lamb and other gamey meats, rosemary works well with honey and hard cheese, too. Try the herb in a Rosemary Refresher Cocktail.
4. Parsley: In its dried form, parsley is lackluster and flavorless-when fresh from the garden, however, parsley brings a bright sparkle to pasta dishes. More susceptible to harsh temperatures and drought than woodier herbs, parsley needs more attention. Put in that extra effort though-regular watering fosters vibrant parsley plants with immaculate emerald leaves.
5. Borage: Most home cooks have never handled a live borage plant, let alone enjoyed its refreshing cucumber flavor. Speckled with brilliant blue flowers (which make a wonderful garnish for gin and tonics), borage contributes a mild vegetal note to salads and soups. Herbs don't have to function as simple seasoning-they can take center stage in a dish as well. Borage definitely requires enough water, so be wary when planting in dry conditions.
Think about an herb garden as a culinary investment-a piece of land that generates ingredients and inspiration. In the morning, look out on your fledgling garden and imagine those plants as a foundation for dinner.