The upside of feeling tied to the house during the kitchen renovation – time spent in the garden! Tending to it diligently along with cooperative weather have the vegetables off to a great start and the herbs in plentiful abundance. Having your own garden means you know exactly what you are eating, and that you have organic goodness steps from your door. If you have just a few patio steps or no time time to devote to a garden, you can still easily grow and snip your favorite herbs. Simple and satisfying!
My Grandmother Fletcher taught me very early on of the importance of maintaining an organic garden (more about that here). Though “organic” has been on everyone’s radar for ages now, many people thought she was a bit crazy in the 70’s when she spent a great deal of time tending to her massive plot. I am proud to say that a few weeks ago I successfully beat back a powdery mildew infestation on my cucumber and zucchini plants. Rather than relying on a fungicide, I cut off the heavily affected leaves and sprayed all plants, including tops and undersides of leaves, with a mixture of one tablespoon baking soda to one gallon of water every other day (you can add a splash of mild dish soap to the mixture as well). Catching it early was also key. The hungry insects and critters aren’t quite as easy to deal with…
The good news is that the cucumbers have subsequently gone crazy and I will have more than I know what to with very soon! The first group of images below show their progression from flower to almost mature, seemingly overnight. The bottom right picture shows just one of ten that I planted, and it is engulfing the rosemary:
Now healthy zucchini squash blossoms:
The cilantro bolted in the first heat wave, sending out flowers that quickly went to seed. Though the plants are no longer useful for their leaves at this point, I’ve used some flowers to garnish salads – they taste like very mild cilantro leaves – and left some flowers in the garden to turn to seed. The seeds of the cilantro plant are the spice coriander, which I use often in Mexican and Indian dishes. It’s a treat to use them when they are still green and super fresh, but you can also allow them to dry completely and grind them with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, which will give you what you buy at the market. Below, the top left image shows an edible bouquet of cilantro flowers on my counter, and bottom left, coriander seeds in my garden. On the right, a recent chickpea chopped salad with chopped mint, chives, and coriander flowers (and my first tomato of the season!).
Speaking of tomatoes. Outside of bountiful herbs, tomatoes really are the main reason I keep a garden. There is almost no greater pleasure than a juicy heirloom tomato, still warm from the sun. It makes me happy just to have the scent of the plants linger on my hands! Below are images of a just a few of the varieties I’m growing. The big ripe ones on the bottom right are Early Girls that I started in pots next to the house. The rest live in the main bed, and include Black Krim, Brandywine, and Granny Smith. I cannot wait to make everything from a tomato tart to a simple Caprese salad.
Italian Large Leaf Basil, the variety I use in the included recipe, is one of four I am growing:
And last but not least, my first green beans, below:
It’s not too late to pot herbs to enjoy until the first frost! The dressing recipe below makes excellent use of basil and parsley, and tastes like the essence of summer.
Creamy Basil Avocado Dressing and Dip
This dressing is a standout on chopped salad with pulled chicken, crispy bacon, and a rainbow of chopped veggies. It also takes crudités from ho-hum to addictive. It is easily halved if a smaller amount is needed.
makes 2 cups
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup loosely packed parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 jalapeno (seeds and membranes removed), chopped
- 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and pit removed (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup light sour cream
- 1/2 cup best quality mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until dressing is smooth and creamy. You can add a few teaspoons of water to thin if desired, blending until smooth. Test for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.