A COVID-19 herb garden
By Katy G. Wilkens
My herb garden got a makeover this spring while my husband’s job was suspended because of COVID-19. While I went off to work, he sheltered at home and tackled raggedy thyme, uncontrolled mint and parsley, an old bay tree and lots of tough weeds.
He did a beautiful job. New fresh herbs are coming up everywhere, and the mint is nicely contained in its own tub. I have more parsley, thyme, chives and cilantro than ever before.
If you don’t have a green thumb or much space, you can still grow herbs just about anywhere - in pots on a deck, in a rockery, in a planter on the front porch or by the kitchen door. In this season, plant fresh herb starts rather than trying to grow herbs from seeds.
Herbs are tough, and most bugs stay away from their essential oils. They don’t need a lot of fertilizer or much water. They will repay you 100-fold with wonderful flavors to spice up even drab pantry-based meals.
One star of our herb garden is cilantro, which has a spicy, verdant taste. It’s a three-in-one crop because you can cook with the tops, roots and seeds.
The leafy greens, similar to parsley, are used in dishes around the world, from pho, spring rolls and other Asian dishes to Mexican staples like salsa and tacos. Bunches of cilantro in the grocery store are very affordable.
If you grow your own, pull up the roots, freeze and save them for the many southeast Asian dishes that call for the stronger flavor without the color of cilantro.
If you let cilantro grow until it flowers and forms seeds, you will be rewarded with an herb called coriander. Add the seeds to soups, stews and chilis as well as to Indian dishes such as butter chicken and curried paneer.
If you have an abundance of cilantro, try making chutney. This low-sodium dish is great for dipping. The new flavor twist in your meals will be well worth it.
2 bunches fresh cilantro, or about 2 cups
1 jalapeno or other hot chile (to taste)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon cumin powder, roasted
½ teaspoon curry powder
¼ cup fresh lime juice (to taste)
2 tablespoons honey (to taste)
Dry roast the cumin and garlic in a small frying pan until darkened a bit but not burned. Mix everything together in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust chile for heat, honey for sweetness and lime juice for sourness.
Serve with tortilla chips, naan, samosas or pakoras. Use on sandwiches. Add to salad dressings. The uses are limited only by your imagination. Keeps frozen for several months. I use half-pint canning jars. Each jar is enough for one delicious meal. Serving size is 2 tablespoons.
[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards: the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award and the Joel D. Kopple Award for significant contributions in renal nutrition. See more recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]