Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Top 5 best herbs for the frugal family

Fresh herbs are by far the most expensive piece of produce pound for pound that you'll ever likely buy on a semi-regular basis. With good reason, too. They're capable of turning just about any bland and mediocre meal into one that you're going to remember for quite sometime. Which is a very important, especially when you're on a tight food budget.

A lot of people buy their herbs dried, or worse yet, in the produce aisle at their local mega mart. This is a shame. Sure, dried herbs are great. But a lot of their essential oils have evaporated in the drying process, and even more lost during their journey to the store and a potentially long stay on the grocer's shelf. And fresh herbs are expensive. They should be. A lot of time and energy went into keeping them alive all this time just so you could pluck them up on a Sunday afternoon for your pasta sauce.

So the solution is simple. Grow your own. Seeds are cheap and herbs require very little maintenance once started. The only thing you need to worry about is getting the biggest bang for your buck. These can of course be grown outside should you have that privilege, but most herbs are quite content to sit in a sunny windowsill inside.

So I've compiled a short list as to the top 10 you should be concerned about if you find yourself with a new green thumb and on a tighter budget.

  1. Basil
    Description: Basil is a dark leafy green plant. The plant itself is flowering, producing tiny, sweet smelling white flowers. It's seeds are tiny and dark green to black in coloring.
    Dishes: Pasta sauce, pesto, zucchini, salad and pizza
    Tips: Needs a very sunny area to grow properly. Like most herbs, the cultivated product can be a little bigger than bite size. Clip only as needed from the plant and mince the leaves very finely. Add toward the end of the cooking process as basil itself is pretty delicate and may lose its flavor if too much heat is applied. Basil is crammed full of antioxidants!

  2. Chives
    Description: Chives are actually part of the onion family. They appear when fully mature as hardy and tall grass with a light to medium green color. They are a flowering plant and produce small purple flowers.
    Dishes: Roasted, mashed and baked potatoes, salad, dip, salsa and pasta sauce
    Tips: Needs a very sunny area to grow properly. When using, snip one stalk off as close to the base as you can and mince it. If you need more, repeat the process with a second stalk. You'll get a surprising amount for very little of the plant, so don't be over zealous when it comes to using.

  3. Bay
    Description: Bay is grown from woody stalks. The actual leaves themselves are large and pale green, with a lighter underside.
    Dishes: Soups, stews, stock, and sauces
    Tips: The bay plant doesn't need so much sun as it needs air. Make sure it's in a well ventilated area. When cooking, bruise the leaf and add it in the beginning of the cooking process whole. Fish it out before serving, as biting into a mouthful of foliage may not be the best experience. Bay itself is aromatic and slightly bitter.

  4. Rosemary
    Description: A small, woody plant that produces small evergreen like needles when fully mature. The plant itself produces tiny periwinkle colored flowers.
    Dishes: Cornish hens, steak, fresh water fish, brisket, lamb, soups, stews and stocks.
    Tips: The essential oils in rosemary can irritate the skin. So be ginger when you clip what you need from the plant. The plant itself needs a moderate amount of sun. Before cooking, bruise the clipping and add at the start. Like basil it should be fished out before serving.

  5. Sage
    Description: Pale to medium green, long and wide leaves. Flowers with large, bell shaped purple flowers. The plant itself is woody.
    Dishes: Pork, chicken, goose, turkey, stuffing
    Tips: This plant's name literally means "to heal" and has been known to treat a large variety of ailments such as digestion and depression. The plant itself tolerates dry air very well, but needs plenty of sunlight to thrive. Like rosemary and bay, sage leaves should be bruised, added during the start of cooking and fished out prior to serving.
Of course there are plenty of other herbs and varieties out there that you can try yourself. But whether it's thyme, tarragon or flat leaf parsley they'll go a long way to stretching your food budget just a little bit more.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

good post

Anonymous said...

As a full-time student I would love to hear about how you manage your lunch hours since eating out everyday for lunch would blow a massive hole in anyone's budget.

Give it a thought.

Ed said...

Anon 1: Thanks!

Anon 2: That's an excellent idea. My very next post will deal with this. It should be up sometime today or tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

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