Cumin

Cumin

Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, Cumin is the dried seed of the plant Cuminum cyminum that is so great it was even mentioned in the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament). Its first documented cultivation was along the Nile River Valley over 4,000 years ago by the Egyptians. Through trade and exploration cumin seeds have dispersed around the world as many people have become intrigued by the spice’s earthy, warm flavors. Spaniards are responsible for bringing cumin with them to the New World, where it is now one of the top 10 spices sold in the US.

Cumin has been seen in numerous meals from Asia to the Americas. Indian and Pakistani cuisines commonly add this aromatic spice to dishes, such as Chana Masala and Samosas. Even the popular spice blend, Garam Masala, has been known to have cumin in it from time to time. My favorite way to use cumin in the kitchen is for carne asada. Literally translating to “grilled meat,” carne asada is a common protein found in many carnicerias in Central America and taquerias in North America. Below you will find a recipe just in time for the grilling season!

Carne Asada
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
(use gloves!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 limes, juiced
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped leaves and
stems (stems have more flavor than leaves!)
2 tbsp white vinegar
½ tsp white sugar
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds steak, flank or skirt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast cumin seed over a dry skillet on medium heat. Keep the seeds constantly moving while toasting, until slightly darker in color and more aromatic (about 1 minute). Grind cumin in a spice grinder, or in a mortar and pestle.

2. Stir in sugar, herbs, and spices to oil, vinegar, and lime juice in a large bowl or baking dish. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Pour over steak in the baking dish, or submerge steak into the bowl, making sure the steak is covered by liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 – 4 hours.

3. Preheat grill to med-high heat, or high heat if cooking on a stove top–if cooking on the stove, a cast iron grill pan works best. Brush grates or pan with a little olive oil to prevent the meat from sticking.

4. Remove steak from marinade. If cooking on the stove, it’s best to remove excess marinade as it can burn and smoke easily. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on both sides of the steak, and place on the grill. Grill on both sides until medium-rare to well done, depending on your preferences.

5. Remove steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut across the grain on a diagonal to make thin strips.

Making It A Meal:
Warm tortillas for tacos or burritos. Top it off with pico de gallo with fresh cilantro and tomatoes from the garden!

Encourage creativity: have a taco night! Supply diners with tortillas, carne asada, grilled veggies (onion and zucchini are a great choice), rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, queso fresco, and sour cream.

 

Basil

Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most common culinary herbs in the kitchen and the garden. It’s incredibly easy to grow, so it’s great for families that don’t have much time to tend to their plants. It also makes a great windowsill crop for those with little outdoor space.

Once you grow it, it’s not hard to find recipes for your basil. Pesto is a popular choice for Genovese Basil, and Thai basil is wonderful when added to Thai curries. Below you will find two simple recipes for basil that you’re sure not to find in Mom’s cookbooks.

Basil Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
3 large basil leaves

Bring everything to a boil, stirring regularly to ensure sugar is dissolved. Pour into a container and refrigerate until cold, keeping the basil leaves in the syrup. Your simple syrup will thicken more as it chills.

Use to make refreshing drinks, such as Basil Lemonade, or Cucumber Basil Gimlets. A great topping for Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler, Vanilla Ice Cream or Berry Sorbets!

 

Nam Manglak
(Thai Basil Seed Drink)

Recommended from Frank Tozer
2 Tbsp basil seed (from your basil plants, not from a seed packet)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 1/4 cups water
1 cup rosewater

Using a tea strainer, rinse the seeds. Soak the basil seeds in 1 cup of water. Use the other 1 ¼ cups of water and heat with sugar and honey until dissolved thoroughly. Taste it and adjust the sweetness to your preference—it will get more diluted once the drink is finished. Allow sugar water to cool to room temperature. Add swelled basil seeds with sugar water at room temperature. Chill and serve over crushed ice.

Faluda is another beverage made with basil seeds that is very popular in Southeast Asia. Its ingredients are very similar, although it has many variations.

Chervil

Chervil

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is related to parsley, and has a flavor similar to Tarragon. Chervil’s lacy leaves are finely cut and light green, as delicate and dainty as their flavor is subtle. The classic herb is essential in French fines herbs mixtures and is often used as a Tarragon substitute. Chervil has a refined taste reminiscent of Anise and Parsley, delicious in salads or to highlight sauces, sautés and soups. Because it can be difficult to find in the grocery market, Chervil is an important herb for kitchen gardeners to grow – its special flavor rewards your efforts many times over.

Chervil is best grown from seeds sown directly into the soil. It develops a long taproot, and does not transplant well. It prefers a cool, moist location, otherwise it tends to bolt. Even so, it is a good plant for succession sowing, so even if it bolts, the new plants can still be harvested.

Herbed Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and cut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil, divided
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon chervil, and salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the carrots from the oven. While the are still hot, toss with the remaining tablespoon of chervil, the butter, and more salt and pepper, if you desire.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is actually a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. With its parentage, you’d be right if you guessed it loves moist conditions — in the wild it is often found growing along the sides of creeks and ditches. In older gardens, it can usually be found under leaky faucets.

If you have ever grown mint, you probably also already know how invasive it can be. It doesn’t generally produce seed, but instead propagates by sending out underground runners, and can be easily restrained by taking simple measures, such as keeping it in pots or contained beds, or staying vigilant at trimming it back.

Mint has long been used in medicinal potions. It has a high menthol content, and its oil can be found in all kinds of products, from ice cream to toothpaste. While usually associated with iced-tea, and as a garnish for desserts, mint also adds a simple, fresh flavor to many typically savory dishes. Lamb with mint jelly is a popular dish in many parts of the world. In India, fresh mint leaves are often added to lightly cooked vegetables.

Spring Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup fresh green peas, blanched
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Rinse and cook the quinoa following the instructions on the package. You can prepare the quinoa the day before and allow it to cool overnight, but you can also spread it out on a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the carrots, peas, and green onions and add the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the cooled quinoa, until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the top with the chopped mint leaves and serve.

New Arrivals!

New Arrivals!

We have been busy as little bees in the spring time, working on all kinds of new features and plant varieties for SmartGardener.com! Here is just a quick sample of some of the really special plants we’ve added.

Borage
These flowers are great for any garden, big or small. Their beautiful blue, purple, and pink colors make an attractive addition, and they encourage more pollinators to come to your garden. The best thing about Borage (Borago officinalis), in my opinion, is that it’s edible! Every time kids come to my community garden, I take them on a tour showing them all the things we grow and play plant identification games with them. During the tour, I would always be sure to stop at the Borage, which is now self-seeding in a sunny spot of our garden. No one could identify it, so when I popped off a flower and put it in my mouth they would all go wild in excitement. Usually the braver children of the bunch will want to taste it immediately, while more reserved children stand back to watch their peers’ reactions. “It tastes just like a cucumber!” is a common response, and soon enough all of the kids will join in delight. It’s simple moments like these that always make me love sharing my garden with others, and especially children!

Fun Fact: Give drinks a fun twist by freezing the flowers in ice cubes, or use them as a garnish on salads, cakes, or other desserts.

Growing Tip: Grow Borage near tomatoes, as the plant repels a common pest, the Tomato Hornworm.

German Chamomile
Chances are you’ve probably had German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in tea. It’s commonly thought of as a sleep aid, but has many medicinal uses beyond that. But did you know that it’s called “the plant doctor” by farmers? Chamomile can improve the growth and health of nearby plants, and has also been proven to improve the flavor and scent in Mints and Basil. You can also give your plants a “sip” of Chamomile Tea to decrease fungal growth by misting it over seedlings to prevent dampening off.

Growing Tip: Since you’ll be harvesting the flowers of the Chamomile plant, try to avoid using any pesticides or sprays.

Important Note: Although it has so many beneficial components, women that are pregnant should avoid consuming Chamomile, as it can cause uterine contractions that can lead to a miscarriage.

Borage and German Chamomile are now available to add to your garden; you can find them by Browsing under Flowers:

Cowpea
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what a cowpea is. That’s probably because we commonly refer to this crop as Black-Eyed Peas (Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata) in the grocery store. While they are not as common on US dinner plates compared to other Peas, like Sugar Snap, they are an important staple crop for much of the world. These heat-tolerant, drought-resistant plants have shown that they can perform well in drier, arid climates where other crops fail. For gardeners in the Midwest, Mid Atlantic, and Southern states, this is an excellent crop to experiment with this year! While Black-Eyed Peas are the most commonly known, other varieties are also available. Red Ripper offers growers a red bean with a cream colored “eye,” while the Pinkeye Purple Hull variety makes a cream colored bean with a maroon “eye.”

Eating Ideas: You don’t have to grow Cowpeas for the seed, though. You can harvest it at any time during its growth, using the greens as a potherb, or the immature pods in the same way as preparing snap beans.

Growing Tip: To avoid fungal disease, don’t water on the leaves of Cowpeas.

Cowpeas are now available to add to your garden; you can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Vegetables:

Winter Savory & Summer Savory
Both in the same plant family, Lamiaceae Satureja, Winter and Summer Savory offer chefs a fragrant peppery-thyme flavor that complements meats, soups, and bean dishes. Unlike similarly named Winter and Summer Squash, the savories prefer opposite growing conditions. Winter Savory is a hardy perennial that can survive cold conditions, even down to 10˚ F, and tolerates poor soil. Summer Savory is a tender annual which cannot tolerate any frost, but does like the heat, and requires more maintenance, moist fertile soil, and regular pruning. All that extra work will pay of though, since many agree that Summer Savory has a more refined taste and a less pungent kick than Winter Savory.

Since Summer Savory is an annual, you’ll be able to harvest it in your first year, while those growing Winter Savory will need more patience as harvest is slow the first year. While Summer Savory sounds more ideal, Northern climates have too short of a warm growing season to grow it, which makes Winter Savory a good alternative. Winter Savory is also a good option for those who want fresh sprigs year round, rather than only during the warm season.

Planting Tip: In the garden both Savory types are great companion plants as they repel common pests. They are especially good with Beans and Peas, in the garden and on your plate!

Growing Tip: Savory does well in containers, and can benefit from starting off alone, as the plants grow slowly at first and weeds and neighboring plants grow much faster.

Roselle
This unique member of the Hibiscus plant is not grown for its flowers, but mainly for the calyxes. The calyx is the collection of sepals, which are the light green parts behind a flower bud. During bud production, the calyx protects the pedals. Once harvested, the calyxes are boiled to create a variety of different drinks, including a deep-red beverage commonly called “agua de flor de Jamaica.” The intense color from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has made it a common food coloring, especially in drinks labeled as “berry flavored.” The flower buds contain natural pectin, so it’s also commonly made into a red, tart, plum-like jelly by simply boiling the flowers and adding sugar.

Fun Fact: The plant is actually native to the tropics of the Old World.

Growing Tip: This plant can get to be 3 to 5’ tall, so plant it somewhere in your garden where it won’t cast a shadow on neighboring plants (unless they prefer the shade).

Winter Savory, Summer Savory and Roselle are now available to add to your garden. You can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Herbs:

 

Lavender

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most popular herbs mentioned when people are asked to name their favorite scented plant, second only to roses, and maybe lilacs. English Lavender (Lamiaceae Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common type of lavender grown for commercial purposes. Its fragrance can’t be met by the other types of lavender. It also makes a great landscape plant, especially in colder climates. In warmer climates, you’ll find Spanish or Mexican Lavender, which also has a nice fragrance, but isn’t as strong.

When you think of lavender, you probably think of sachets, potpourri, body lotions, and relaxing bath fizzes. But did you know there’s a rich culinary history of using lavender in the kitchen? Its flavor is a pleasant change when added to savory dishes in place of rosemary, and it is delightful when paired with sweets. Just remember, a little goes a long way.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp salt
1 tsp lavender flowers, dried
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

In a mixing bowl combine chopped lavender, lemon zest, and sugar. In a hand-held mixer at moderate speed, beat the butter into the sugar mixture. Add in flour and salt and mix on low speed, until it begins to form a soft dough (you can do this all by hand, too, it’ll just take longer!). Transfer to a sheet of wax paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Roll out to a log that’s 4” thick and refrigerate for 45 more minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut the shortbread log into rounds, ¼” thick. Place on an un-greased baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Bake shortbread in oven for 20-25 minutes, until very slightly browned. They will stiffen up once out of the oven so don’t overcook them. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before enjoying.

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon (Asteraceae Artemisia dracunculus) makes a great companion plant for gardens. The scent and taste of tarragon is disliked by many garden pests, and it does a good job of repelling them naturally. It is also reputed to be a nurse plant — a plant which enhances growth and flavor of companion crops. While Russian Tarragon is easier to grow than French Tarragon because it is hardier, more vigorous and can be grown from seed, it is also much milder in flavor and for this reason it is rarely grown as a culinary herb. For French Tarragon, it is better to purchase plant starts or root cuttings.

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes used in French cooking, along with parsley, chives and chervil. Tarragon’s delicate flavor is particularly well-suited for chicken, fish, and egg dishes. In fact, tarragon is one of the main components of Béarnaise sauce. But it also is a delightfully delicate flavor-surprise when paired with citrus, in a citrus salad, in an orange-tarragon sauce over salmon, and in this ambrosial sorbet.

Grapefruit Tarragon Sorbet
(Adapted from Gourmet)

2 cups grapefruit juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled

Bring sugar, water and dried Tarragon to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved allow it to simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in grapefruit juice. Churn in an ice cream maker. Once complete, transfer sorbet into an airtight container place in the freezer to harden even more.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, place in an airtight container in the freezer. Allow to chill, stirring every 30 minutes. It will take roughly 2 hours until the consistency gets thick. Keep in an airtight container.

Will keep 1 week in freezer.

 

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Lamiaceae Melissa officinalis) is actually a member of the mint family, except instead of having a minty flavor, it has lemon-scented leaves. Traditionally, it was valued for its calming properties, and historically has been used to create tinctures for soothing nerves, reducing stress and anxiety, promoting sleep, improving appetite, and easing pain and discomfort from indigestion. It has also been used in several cosmetic applications, and makes a good facial cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin.

But did you know it can also be used to give a lemon flavor to many dishes and drinks. Here’s a simple, delicious, delicately flavored  herbal iced tea recipe, just in time for summer!

Summer Herbal Tea
(Adapted from Theresa Loe)

½ loosely packed cup lemon balm
½ loosely packed cup of mint
2 tsp Lavender flowers, dried or fresh
2 peels of orange, 3” long each
1 quart of water

Bring water to a boil, and pour over herbs and peel. Allow it to steep for 10 minutes, then strain to serve. Allow tea to cool and serve over ice for a refreshing treat.