“Grow my own herbs?” laughed my friend Marg when I suggested she buy a small pot of basil for sale outside a neighborhood market in Tel Aviv. “When it comes to growing anything, my thumbs are black, not green. Everything I grow dies,” she said. Try again, I suggested, and if you see a yellow leaf, call me 24-7.
One of the great pleasures of my life is my organic herb garden, set in the small patio-sized area outside my ground floor apartment, which is not far from the sea, and in the center of Tel Aviv. And while it’s true that over the years I’ve added a drip watering system that also provides a slow and steady injection of organic fertilizer, (aha, that’s how she does it, you must be thinking to yourself), experience has taught me that anyone and everyone can grow fresh herbs, even out of a pot set on a windowsill. Most herbs are easygoing when it comes to their plant life. You just have to remember to water them.
What’s more, fresh organic herbs are fabulously healthy, with immense quantities of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and no chance of pesticide contamination. If they do get diseased or infected, there are natural solutions (see http://www.naturalgreen.co.il/ ).
What to grow? I’ve had great success in growing oregano (for pasta, avocado dishes, dressings); mint (endless options for food and beverages); and rosemary (for roasted vegetables, poultry and meat), but for some unexplained reason, zero success with parsley, coriander or dill.
Around my garden, in various pots and planters, you’ll find native basil (called rehan in Hebrew), Italian basil (bazilikum, a strain introduced to Israel in the 1980s as Israelis became more savvy about real Italian food), alongside sage (great for tummy troubles), and chives (perfect as a garnish and their onion-like flavor beats finely chopping an onion for dips and salads).
Lemongrass grows happily in a big deep clay pot, providing me with a steady supply of lemon-scented leaves for scenting cold water and tea, and its white roots to chop and add to Asian dishes. In neighboring pots are lemon and regular thyme (for marinades and cheeses), curry leaf (speaks for itself), lemon verbena (louiza for tea) and white savory (zuta levana, also great for tea, with antiseptic and antibacterial qualities that intertwine.
In the meantime, my friend bonded with her basil, and it’s still growing strong.
Parsley and Oregano Pesto with Pecans
Blend up a batch of pesto with fresh herbs from the garden, and freeze them for future use. Defrost a frozen pesto cube and add to soup, salad dressing, sandwiches, vegetable and meat dishes.
Feel free to mix and vary fresh herbs to make up 2 ½ cups of leaves. Strong-flavored herbs should always be mixed with a larger amount of parsley.
- 1 ½ cups (packed) fresh parsley, leaves only (a good sized bunch)
- ½-¾ cup fresh oregano leaves
- ¼ cup pecans
- ½ -1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- 1 large garlic clove
- 4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a small capacity blender or food processor, grind all the ingredients together except for the olive oil to a coarse or fine consistency. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil slowly and process until blended. Season with salt and pepper and blend again. Taste and add more oil, lemon peel or juice or seasoning if necessary.
Spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze, then transfer frozen cubes and store in an airtight container lined with waxed or parchment paper, or place in an airtight jar, cover the top with a layer of olive oil and refrigerate.