Have you ever found yourself cooking a chicken for the upteenth time, but you still can't nail that flavorful spice on the skin? Maybe your tomato sauce is a little blah, or your homemade baked bread just needs a bit more of a kick. The truth is that buying herbs at the store is a good shelf-stable option, but anyone who has had fresh herbs will agree: they are the secret ingredient that will save you money and time. Banish bland dinners forever with these three ingredients!
Secret Ingredient 1: Basil
Basil, from Thai basil to sweet basil, makes a great backyard shrub and grows well in a variety of climates. What's more, you'll be stunned how floral and flavorful a single leaf of fresh basil is compared to the dried leaves you can shake out of a spice jar. While grocery stores often sell a few sprigs of fresh basil in a plastic container, the price will be high and, since the basil is already picked, it goes bad quickly. Once a small basil plant takes root, they tend to grow rapidly, meaning you can pull off a big handful of leaves for dinner without anyone batting an eye!
If you like parmesan and walnuts, blend up a big pile of basil with some olive oil, parmesan, and walnuts for a perfect pesto. This pesto will be way more aromatic than the kind that comes in a jar, and will taste good on anything from simple toast or pasta, to more complicated pairings like baked chicken or salmon. The best part about having a nice supply of basil in your garden is that you don't have to waste time or go out of your way to add it to a dish. Just blend, apply to your food, and cook as usual.
Basil also pairs very nicely with oil or cheese in a simple pasta dish, and a little goes a long way in salads and soups. Best of all, it is one of the most distinctive flavors in margherita style pizza, which you can now make fresh at home!
Secret Ingredient 2: Rosemary
Rosemary is a great secret ingredient, partly because a rosemary plant can thrive even if it doesn't get a ton of water. A small plant may not spread like wildfire, but it will stay hearty throughout the season, even as you trim back a little to add to recipes. Rosemary dazzles without much help as part of a focaccia bread or an infused herb butter, but you can use it for a lot of other purposes as well.
Add rosemary to roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, or squash as its flavor melds well with both savory iterations and slightly sweet ones, like butternut squash. A little olive oil and rosemary in a risotto can make you feel incredibly fancy, and if you want a real classy afternoon, why not look up a rosemary cocktail, like a rosemary bourbon sour or a rosemary gin and tonic? Even a small dose of just a couple sprigs from this unassuming plant will really rock your world with flavor.
Secret Ingredient 3: Mint
Rosemary makes a splash on the plate but in the garden it's actually pretty unassuming and keeps to itself. Our next ingredient, mint, is just the opposite outdoors. Don't expect a mint plant to stay put as it will spread if given the opportunity. This makes the herb a great option for filling a big planter that isn't exceptionally close to any other flower beds. Imagine a big pitcher of iced tea but with the twist of a few crushed peppermint leaves steeped with it! Not having to buy fresh mint that could spoil is lovely, and mint oils can be intense and hard to mete out in small enough quantities for a small batch of food. That being said, if you find yourself with a mint patch that's grown too large, you can also brew up some of your own mint essential oils for non-cooking uses. Mint oil can be a lovely way to perfume your home with a scent that will make you feel alert and healthy.
Mint is also exceptional in a lot of desserts, from a batch of mint ice cream to a plate of mint brownies. It's also pleasurable to chew a leaf or two on its own, and if you like DIY gifts, making bath products or lotions with mint mixed in can be a creative and thoughtful gift. Lastly, it's not just iced tea that benefits from a little mint: other drinks, from a boozy lemonade cocktail to a cozy mug of hot cocoa, all benefit from an added mint leaf or two.
Yes, herbs from the store are often very helpful in getting to make our favorite dishes out of season. However, very little makes for as good a story as an easy-to-make but absolutely delicious meal that originated, even in part, from your own backyard! Rosemary, basil, and mint are only a few of the plants you can easily grow in your backyard, "prune" for daily or weekly use, and wait for them to grow back. You will be relieved to not have to buy fresh herbs at the store only to see them wither before you can use them. You'll also be amazed how such small leaves and sprigs can add so much to such a variety of dishes.