budget talk

Cooking with Herbs

One of the things I love most about summer is my backyard herb garden is in full bloom. If you’ve never thought about using herbs in every day dishes, you’ve been missing out on one of the best ways to add some gourmet flair to any budget friendly dish.

Herbs Go with Just About Everything
You can add herbs to just about any dish, everything from sandwiches to pasta. If you’ve got a recipe you’re growing tired of, try adding some herbs. One of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs is to add ones like thyme, basil and oregano to homemade mayonnaise. Just about any type of sandwich tastes wonderful when you use an herbed flavored mayonnaise.

Other Uses for Herbs
It’s not just the herbs themselves that can transform ordinary dishes into something special. Herbs combined with other ingredients can be turned into things like a pesto sauce that can be used on vegetables, potatoes, fish, or tossed with pasta, or used as a sauce for pizza.
And don’t worry if you can’t use it all in one dish, pesto sauce freezes perfectly.
I’ve also used herbs like basil to turn leftover vegetables and chickpeas into a minestrone soup. And a few snips of chives can turn a plain omelet into a new recipe.

You Don’t Need to be a Master Gardener
One of the great things about herbs is you don’t need a green thumb to grow your own. They’re fairly hardy; don’t require lots of watering, and best of all animals like rabbits and deer leave them alone. So instead of buying them in the produce department save some money and invest in a few pots of herbs like chives, basil, thyme and oregano. You can keep them on your deck, patio, or even on a windowsill and snip as needed.

Try Them First
Some herbs have a very overpowering flavor and while you want to give a dish some zing, you never want the herb to dominate a dish. Go easy on the dominant flavored herbs like rosemary. I once bought some rosemary roasted potatoes from a deli and found the chef had been a bit too heavy handed with the rosemary and it ended up ruining what could have been a great side dish. Cilantro is another herb that packs a punch. I find you either hate it or love it. So always taste the herb first before you add it to the dish.

Let’s Not Forget the Dried Herbs
While summer’s bounty doesn’t last forever, herbs can be dried and even frozen. They can also be added to oils and vinegars and enjoyed throughout the winter months. I’ve managed to keep many herbs like basil and dill thriving right up to the holidays. And don’t be tempted to buy herbs in bulk. I’ve learned this the hard way. Never buy more dried herbs than you think you’ll use in a six-month period. After that they lose their punch, and always keep them out of direct sunlight.

Not Just the Cook’s Friend
While you’re buying pots of herbs for use in the kitchen, consider buying some to fill out your perennial garden. Some produce beautiful and long lasting blooms. They’re often less expensive than perennials and a lot more hardy, which makes your gardening dollar stretch a lot further.

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