Only 38 days remain until summer officially begins (not that I’m counting). Have you started your garden yet? No matter where you live, you can grow a garden. Most herbs (and some veggies) require little more than a container, a sunny ledge, a sprinkling of water and a little bit of attention. They’re easy to start from seeds, and when it’s eventually time to harvest, you’ll have aromatic, delicious and nutritious ingredients to cook with—no trip to the supermarket required!
Here are four of my favorite gardens to grow, as well as some easy ways to use homegrown herbs and veggies:
A sprout garden is the simplest to grow, and benefits are wonderful. I like to keep sprouts growing all year ‘round in my house, in pretty planters and ball jars. I also grow three types at a time, for variety and so that we always have some on hand.
To grow your own, try Mumm’s Organic Sprouting Seeds, which come in different varieties such as alfalfa or wheat berries and blends such as Sandwich Booster and Spring Salad. Find a pretty pot or jar—it doesn’t have to be deep, just a few inches. Then follow the instructions on the seed packets. (Quick Tip: If you’re new to sprouting, consider trying Mumm’s Sprouting Jar Starter Kit.)
I use my spouts in a variety of ways, but the top three are:
- Sandwiches. One of our morning favorites is whole wheat toast with smashed avocado, lemon juice, salt and pepper, topped with a handful of sprouts.
- Breads. Mix sprouted wheat berries into bread dough for enhanced nutrition!
- Salads. Top any salad with sprouts—I like to use Marrowfat Peas. They’re also great to munch straight from the container! Here is a simple salad recipe my family enjoys:
Quinoa & Sprouts Salad
- 2 cups quinoa
- 1 cup your favorite sprouted seeds
- ½ small red onion, diced
- 1-1/2 cups diced fresh veggies (carrots, peppers, celery, cucumber, etc.) or canned veggies of choice (hearts of palm, marinated artichoke, roasted red peppers, etc.)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice or lime juice
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Handful of chopped cilantro
Prepare quinoa according to package directions. Combine all ingredients and serve.
Spice up your yard with a salsa garden, featuring veggies and herbs such as tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro. If you’re lucky enough to live in the right climate (like me!), you might also grow trees, such as avocado and lemon, to use these fresh fruits in your recipes. Try this salsa with your harvest:
Fresh Garden Veggie Salsa
- 2 to 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 pepper, chopped and seeded
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- Splash of apple cider vinegar
- Juice from half a lemon
- 2 Tbsp. minced cilantro
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: corn, black beans, diced avocado
In medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients. (Quick Tip: If your harvest is large enough, make large batches of salsa and use a simple water-bath canning method to preserve it to use throughout the year!)
Whether you have pizza night once a week or enjoy tomato sauce and veggies regularly in other dishes as we do (think: calzones, pizza bagels, omelet toppings!), a pizza garden is a great way to bring fresh flavor and nutrition into your cooking.
Section off part of your backyard garden (or plant seeds in separate large pots) and grow: tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, parsley, basil, oregano and thyme. This simple sauce is one of my favorites—I make it once a week!
Homemade Pizza Sauce
- 3 to 4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 small pepper, diced (about ½ cup)
- Herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
In small pan over medium heat, combine tomatoes and a small amount of water. Add onion, garlic and pepper; simmer for 15 minutes until onions and peppers are tender. Use a fork or potato masher to smash into sauce. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of each herb and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
“Must-Have Herbs” Garden
Sometimes I get in a “ho-hum flavor rut” with my cooking. Herbs are the perfect way to add a delicious twist to just about anything. You can use herbs from your garden to season soups, potatoes, veggie dishes, marinades, salad dressings and even desserts.
I like to start my herb garden with seeds because it allows me to keep a “rotating crop.” I’ll plant my first round, then a few weeks later, I plant a second round of the same types of seeds. This staggering method allows for continual harvests, and it also means less stress for the plants. (Quick Tip: If you grow extra, you can also dry the herbs or share them with friends!)
Here are my go-to herbs and different ways I like to use them:
Pairs well with veggies or cheese. Basil pesto can be tossed with pasta or used as a spread.
Chop and add to mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs. Also good in vegan “egg” salad or tofu scramble with turmeric and ginger.
Add to salad or salads. Cilantro makes everything better!
Yummy with beets and fish.
Chop and use to top melon or freeze with watermelon for tasty ice.
Use to flavor Greek and Italian dishes. Add to homemade salad dressings.
A cooking staple, parsley can be used in just about anything!
Add to soups or leave on the twig to flavor roasts. (Quick Tip: When removing rosemary or other “twiggy” herbs from a plant, use scissors to clip, then run your fingers down the twig to remove the herb.)
Great in vegan dishes such as quinoa salad.
I grow a variety and use either tied in a bunch or rubbed off the twig.
Try it in lemonade or sprinkle on ice cream or yogurt.
When using herbs from your garden, follow these tips:
- Always wash herbs thoroughly and allow to dry before using.
- If unable to use everything you cut, lay excess herbs on a towel to fully dry; store for later use.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with herbs! Use them in creative, new ways. For example, try adding herbs to a food processor with butter or cheese as a treat topping for toast or to rub under the skin of chicken before roasting.
Flavorful Herb Salad
Add fresh herbs to any salad with a splash of vinegar, salt and pepper. I believe this method is best for really tasting the herbs’ full flavors. Here are a three simple salad combinations you’ll love:
1. To a basic salad, add: cilantro, chives, parsley, a splash of lemon juice and a little olive oil.
2. To a leafy, micro greens salad, add: thyme, basil, oregano and a splash of red wine vinegar. (Quick Tip: For a special treat try Organic Champagne Vinegar.)
3. Tear and Massage a head of kale. Add a cup of chopped parsley and a diced avocado. Top with ¼ cup lemon juice Done! (We sometimes add beets, too.)
Dana Zucker is a home cook that likes to do it her way! She gets creative with nutritious ingredients to keep her active family—teenage twins and a vegan, triathlete husband—healthy and happy. Cooking with organic, local and whole food ingredients is key, whether she’s whipping up an early-morning breakfast, prepping afterschool snacks or getting dinner on the table at 10 p.m. Dana says, “We do eat out sometimes, and even cheat with some pre-made foods. But I try to balance making delicious foods with the reality of a busy schedule.” Dana’s recipes are a great starting point to find a style of cooking that works for your family. Her advice? Keep it real—and keep it easy!