When I got married, my sister gave me an herb garden planted in a giant galvanized metal tub. At that time in my life, the only plants I’d ever kept alive were a couple scrawny succulents on my dorm room windowsill, and while I already loved to cook, I had no idea what to do with nine varieties of fresh herbs. Needless to say, I was intimidated. The plants died a slow, neglected death, which I rationalized as okay because all the herbs I ever needed were available at the grocery store.
Sixteen years later, I’ve come full circle on the idea of growing my own herbs (although that tub is usually used for keeping beer cold at parties). Now I grow herbs in pots, and here are some good reasons why you should, too.
- Cooking with fresh herbs is fun; it feels very “chef-y” to do things like chiffonade.
- Fresh herbs accentuate food and really make the taste of your dishes stand out.
- Herbs can be expensive to buy in the grocery store.
- Most recipes call for only a small amount of fresh herbs, so you often end up wasting half the bunch.
- Herb plants are beautiful and smell incredible.
- Herbs are really easy to grow, and you don’t need a yard or even a patio.
Grow the herbs you like; I have basil, rosemary, cilantro, thyme, and mint. (I also love Italian flat-leaf parsley, but I discovered that is one herb that’s easier and cheaper to buy than grow, plus it keeps for weeks in the fridge.) Whenever a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh basil or a “few sprigs” of thyme, I just mosey out to my pots and snip. No waste, and no substituting powdery, probably years-old dried herbs (which is fine in general but not nearly as tasty or fun). I can garnish my Cucumber Collins without having to buy an entire container of mint.
Once you have your potted herbs, a whole world of recipes awaits. I find that because I have them so handy, I use fresh herbs in almost everything I cook. I add them to vinaigrettes, pasta sauce, soups, omelets, and I toss them into the pan with the vegetables I roast. I love to make mint simple syrup to add to cocktails and limeade. Did I mention they’re really easy to grow in that empty clay pot you’ve got in your garage?
The dressing in this recipe is a simplified version of a sauce gribiche from a French cookbook I think I also received as a wedding present. It’s like homemade mayonnaise although the eggs are cooked before emulsifying (less scary and much easier to deal with). While it is awesome on this salad (obviously), it’s also great on grilled chicken (which I often add to this salad, by the way), cold meats, pasta salad, and mixed lettuces. I love salads like this because they can be “deconstructed” for everyone in your family (especially useful if you have picky eaters, i.e. kids). Arrange the cooked vegetables on a huge platter and let people assemble their salads themselves. Serve the dressing on the side; you will have more than enough.
Roasted Potato-Broccoli Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
6-8 new red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
2 heads broccoli, cut into smallish florets
1/2 pint mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt
For the Herb Vinaigrette:
6 tbsp. olive oil
2 eggs, hard-boiled
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely diced
Approx. 6 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (I use roughly equal parts flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and chives)
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the potatoes with 1/2 tbsp. oil and salt, and roast on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Toss the broccoli with remaining 1/2 tbsp. oil and a pinch of salt and add to baking sheet (I kind of crowded mine because I really only wanted to use one pan, and it worked fine), roast for 15-20 minutes more, adding mushrooms to pan about 5 minutes before the potatoes and broccoli are done. The goal is for everything to be done at about the same time; I like my roasted veggies pretty well done.
For the vinaigrette, put the egg yolks in a bowl and smash with the back of a spoon, making a paste. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until smooth. Stir in vinegar, mustard, shallots, and herbs. Finely chop the egg whites and add to dressing. Taste and add salt if necessary. Toss with the roasted vegetables, or serve on the side.