By Chef Selwyn Richards
When you see a professional chef throw together a gourmet salad, chances are there are at least a few fresh herbs in the mix. The tender, bold, savory, sweet, pungent, earthy, and otherwise distinct flavors that fresh herbs provide, set the stage for every gourmet salad.
Including herbs in your own homemade salads will definitely take them up a notch to gourmet status. It’s easy when you know what and how to use herbs, as well as how to grow them yourself.
Indoors or Outdoors
Truthfully, you don’t need garden space to grow quality, great-tasting herbs. All you need is a controlled environment where light and moisture make growing herbs possible. That can be indoors; especially if you can more carefully control the growing process better than you could outdoors.
You can get as complicated as you want, or keep it simple. Garden centers make it easy by providing herb kits, pots, grow lights, and equipment that can help your indoor herb garden thrive. The key elements to control are temperature and moisture. With prepackaged kits, you don’t have to guess.
These kits allow you to grow herbs easily, even in winter months. You just need an adequate amount of sunlight or artificial light. The recommended minimums for light are 14 hours for artificial lights or 6 hours for sunlight. And the suggested sunlight amount is often filtered, so you may not even need a windowsill.
Along with light, you’ll need to watch for pests that can thrive in warmer indoor environments. With proper air circulation and a spray bottle of soapy water close at hand, you can control this problem adequately. Now with a proper watering schedule, you are all set.
Growing herbs outdoors may be possible if you have a good location, proper sunlight, and an adequate growing season. There’s a delicate pH balance necessary here, and supporting your garden soil with fertilizer and organic material may be necessary. You may want to create a compost pile specifically for this purpose.
For outdoor gardens, ideally you’d want to create an area close to the kitchen for convenience when harvesting your herbs for the great recipes you have in mind. Watering and weeding will take more time outdoors, but the extra work will be worth it come harvest time. You may also consider planting the herbs in containers outdoors. That way you can place them where the growing conditions are best, as well as control the environment, and keep them convenient to the kitchen, too.
Good Choices for Gourmet Salad Herbs
What herbs make good choices for gourmet garden salads? Where do we begin! Chives, cilantro, lemon balm, parsley, basil, thyme, dill, mint, sage, watercress, marjoram, oregano, fennel, rosemary, and tarragon are just the beginning. Chevril, mint, and lemongrass are other popular choices for herb garden enthusiasts. Lovage leaves are an under-appreciated herb that adds a spicy celery-like taste to a salad.
Some herbs make a better addition to a dressing than to the actual salad due to their strong flavor. Consider grinding stronger herbs like rosemary or sage, then whisking the herb into a light vinaigrette dressing. Fennel may be too strong for some people to bite into, but when you grind or chop it, then add to an oil and vinegar dressing, the flavor mellows out just right. Other herbs like mint, cilantro, parsley, dill, and thyme can be sprinkled about the salad after chopping to bring out the flavor.
Other Recipe Ideas
Herbs aren’t just for your typical green salad and dressings, either. They can add delicious life to things like fresh-sliced tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, fruit salads, and sandwich spreads. Add fresh mint leaves to fruit salads, too. Create smooth, savory herb butter for basting grilled vegetables, meats, or even bread to go along with your salads.
Think of all the traditional foods you prepare regularly and consider adding fresh garden herbs to make your dishes even better. A simple cucumber salad comes alive with a little fresh mint. Any potato salad will benefit from parsley, rosemary, and dill. Fennel is an especially good herb to add to roasted turkey, chicken, and pork, then serve the meat over a bed of mixed greens topped with a vinaigrette dressing with more fennel and you have layers of flavor that scream gourmet!
Any time of year is the right time to consider planting an herb garden. With fresh herbs available right in your own kitchen or garden, you don’t have to be a professional chef to toss together a real honest-to-goodness gourmet garden salad.
Selwyn Richards is an award-winning master chef. He is also the President and Executive Chef at The Art of Catering Inc. and is the author of “The Art of Cooking: Soul of The Caribbean”. Chef Selwyn can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone — (905) 619-1059.