Any cook will tell you it is the ingredients that count the most when making a dish. The quality of your herbs and spices can make something go from blah to amazing with just a dash or two.
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A window herb garden is a simple way to add some great flavours to your food. All you need is a sunny window and a little fertilizer.
I certainly won't knock the dried herbs and spices, since most name brands are pretty good. However fresh can add just a little more pop to any dish.
Earlier this year, I decided to put together a plant stand to grow a few of the more popular herbs that I use in my cooking.
Now I'll be the first to admit I'm not a great gardener. I have a lot to learn still, but I am picking up a few things here and there. So far things are going well.
Right now I have growing basil, oregano, rosemary, chives, parsley and cilantro, along with a couple of other ornamental plants.
You do have to be mindful of what you plant if there are pets in the house of course. I have a cat that seems to think anything green is tasty. I try to keep a pot of cat grass growing for her, since it is supposed to help their digestive system, but once she finishes that it's on to the next plant.
One time I came home and she had onion breath from chowing down on my chives. Another time was a little more pleasant, as she had munched on the basil. Any of the gentle methods that are supposed to deter cats don't work, and I'd rather not do anything harsh. I can live with a few leaves nibbled on now and then.
Oddly enough she was beneficial to one of my plants. Though not an herb, I do also have an African Violet that I've had for about two years. It grew fine, but never bloomed. One of the first things my cat went after when she came into my home was the plant leaves. After eating a few of them, it suddenly bloomed and hasn't stopped. Go figure.
Back to the herbs.
Most of mine came from transplants rather than seed, just for the sake of simplicity. My front windows face south, so they get plenty of sunlight each day.
For fertilizer I use a product called Seaboost. It's a natural product made from seaweed that you mix in with your water. I didn't want to go with any of the synthetic fertilizers, since they can sometimes impart a bit of a bitter flavour to an herb.
Some of the herbs like to flower, so it's best to cut those off as soon as you see them. The reason is two fold. The first is it keeps the plants growing energy concentrated in the edible part. The second is with some herbs, such as basil, when they go to flower it changes the flavour.
As an added bonus, whenever I prune flowers or pick a bit off one of the plants to use, my apartment is filled with the wonderful aroma of fresh herbs.
If you have never used fresh herbs in cooking before, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, you can't substitute one for the other one for one. Dried herbs are much more concentrated, and fresh herbs will have more air volume when you measure them out. The general rule is you use one third dry versus fresh. Roughly speaking 1 teaspoon of dry equals 1 tablespoon of fresh, and can be scaled up accordingly.
The other thing to keep in mind is when to add the dried versus fresh. Dried herbs are usually added early to a dish, especially a sauce. If a recipe calls to add your dried herbs and simmer, just omit the herbs for now. Once the sauce has done its thing and is off the heat, that is the time to add most fresh herbs in. The reason being is fresh herbs still have their oils and will disperse very quickly, however those same oils will break down if heated too long. With dried herbs you have to reconstitute them to draw the oils out.
There are exceptions to these rules of course. Rosemary is usually added earlier because of how thick and woody it is. Use your judgment, and when in doubt consult Google.
If you are interested in cooking at all and have the window space, I highly recommend planting a few commonly used herbs. It's pretty easy, nice to look at and make your food so much better.