We all want healthy, yummy, instagram-worthy food on the table, but it’s not easy when you only have a short lunch break or half an hour in the evening between work and dashing off again.
There are simple ways to make your meals better. To enjoy and savour your meal, you need to appreciate the work that went into it and have the best possible ingredients. That doesn’t mean expensive, high-end shopping, it just means knowing where your food comes from and add litte notes to make the flavour stand out.
Why use dry herbs for example when all it takes is to have a few pots on a window sill and you can have freshly cut herbs every day?
Many people find growing their own flavour carriers – I mean herbs – difficult, so here are some tips.
(Note, if you are not convinced, just remind yourself how much flavour it adds both fresh and cooked. You can cut back on a lot of salt if you season with herbs, which is a double win on the health front.)
Keeping supermarket basil alive
In the supermarket it looks beautiful and fresh, but as soon as you take it home it starts to wilt, the edges turn brown and you bought an entire pot when you could have just bought cut stalks and they would have lasted just as long.
The solution is simple: When you buy a pot, they are grown for sale which means each pot needs to look like a good bunch of leaves on a small surface. There can be over ten or fifteen seedlings hiding in the pot you bought, when all you really need is one or two, because the plant will grow and needs space and light (but the eager shopper is, as the name says, eager, and cannot be consoled by hearing the one leaf will eventually grow into a pot of basil, so instead they fill them to the brim and more).
So when you get home, grab a few extra pots and divide your basil into at least four different pots so they can each get the sun they deserve – and voilà, they will all grow!
A flavour boost
Almost like a cheat code in gaming, there are ways to make your plants bigger, better, brighter and more resistant to the elements and it is all with one little mixture we all have at home: Aspirin.
Aspirin mimics the naturally occuring hormone which jump starts the production of aroma in plants. It fools the plant into believing it is under attack and it responds by “gearing up” and becoming stronger and expelling more essential oils and thus flavour into its leaves or fruit. Weird, but true.
Simply dissolve a 300g tablet in a litre of water, pop it into a spray bottle and spray it on our plant.
Try your hand at chillies
Another spice you regularly need is chillies. They don’t always have to be hot, the heat level is up to you and your personal preferences, but you often need one and then have the rest of the packet to throw away or forget about and then throw away. (Unless of course you dry them yourself for future use in case you must have quite a bit of time on your hands.)
So instead, grow them yourself and grab one whenever you fancy it (or the recipe calls for one). Growing them is simple.
Start in late winter or early spring – you can just about get away with it now – and simply plant a couple of seeds into compost and place it on a warm (18 to 20 degrees celcius is good) indoor windowsill. Wthin a week or two the seedlings should emerge and you can remove the weaker one (or ones, if you planted more than two). That plant will then grow and once it reaches around four inches, transfer it to a pot around 15 inches big and place it in the sunniest and warmest spot you can find.
If it doesn’t keep – preserve it
Homemade is always better than store bought. So if you have herbs or chillies (or mushrooms for that matter) left over or need to pick them before you go on holiday, make sure you preserve them to use later.
One option is to chop up your herbs and put them into ice cube trays and cover them with oil. Then pop them in the freezer and tae one cube out when you need it.
But you can also cut and dry your herbs and spices. Chillies can be threaded on a string and hung by a window to dry, which also looks like a fantastic kitchen decoration straight from a Hungarian market. This can take a few weeks so start early. Then you can store them in a jar. Just make sure you add come uncooked rice at the bottom to absorb any moisture.
Touch-leaved Mediterranean herbs are quicker to dry. Hang them upside down and within a week or so they will be dry.
Get out the booze
You may be thinking of cooking and possibly some baking, but herbs can be useful for a myriad of things!
The best way to explore all the flavours is simply to give it a try. Look up some recipes online and you will see how much is out there!
We know it isn’t Christmas yet, but try some fir needles (yes, really) with gin and lemon. Or saffron rum. Or mint and pineapple with vodka.
The options are endless.
Note that many take a week or so to make, so don’t plan it as a last-minute party addition.