This past weekend, I went to Farmer D Organics, an awesome little store here in Atlanta. They’re an organic nursery that sells seed starts, fruit trees, as well as gardening supplies and equipment. The CFO (Chief Farming Officer), Daron Joffe, has lots of experience with Biodynamic growing and agriculture and he works as a consultant all over the place, setting up organic gardens and more. If you’re looking for organic gardening supplies and aren’t having any luck finding them elsewhere, you should definitely check out their online store.
So anyway…going to Farmer D Organics inevitably leads to me buying far more than I set out to pick up. My intention was to get some strawberries and biodynamic preps. (They didn’t have the strawberries, and that’s because they’re best planted in the fall…have I still got a lot to learn!) But I did end up getting 5 different herb plants, two kinds of squash seeds and seeds for a really interesting Mexican herb called Epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides). From Wikipedia:
Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote’s fragrance is strong but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citrus, petroleum, savory, mint and camphor.
Although it is traditionally used with black beans for flavor and its carminative properties, it is also sometimes used to flavor other traditional Mexican dishes as well: it can be used to season quesadillas and sopes (especially those containing huitlacoche), soups, mole de olla, tamales with cheese and chile, chilaquiles, eggs and potatoes and enchiladas.
Back to the plants, though…
Here’s the cilantro plant (Coriandrum sativium). It’s got a zingy, fresh flavor that is oh-so-good for cooking Mexican or Latin American food. Francisco makes an awesome aji (a Colombian style salsa that’s great with empanadas) using lots of cilantro and aho (garlic). I’ll share the recipe soon:
Next, we have the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). I’m a sucker for beautiful plants, and this one practically shouted “take me home and eat me!” To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had sorrel before. As you can see, it has long, spade-shaped leaves, and the texture is a little bit like New Zealand spinach—very firm and thick. They’re a close relative of dockweed, which apparently is a bit of a nuisance. Sorrel is a slightly sour/acidic herb that’s used sparingly in fresh salads, on sandwiches, soups, sauces and in omelettes. It’s acidic because it contains oxalic acid, which makes it rather astringent. I’ll let you all know how it is when I try it:
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) is unbelievable! It’s native to the highlands in Mexico and Guatemala, and as the name suggests, it smells exactly like a ripe pineapple. Intoxicating! We had one in the garden year before last, and it grew really well and put out beautiful, slender red flowers at the end of the summer that the hummingbirds absolutely loved. This year, I’m going to explore some potential culinary uses for it. If all else fails, I’ll bet it would be great muddled up in a mojito or a caipirinha. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Dwarf winter savory (Saturejura montana, illyrica) is another herb that I was seduced into bringing home with me. It’s commonly used as an herb to flavor different kinds of meat, but it’s also used in Romanian, Hungarian, Greek, French, Polish and Italian cuisine, sometimes for vegetarian dishes. It’s also one of the herbs that form the popular seasoning mixture, Herbes de Provence. It’s a perennial, and a little bit more bitter than its annual cousin, summer savory. I expect I’ll be cooking up some soup with this one soon:
Last, but not least, we have a fascinating herb that I’ve never seen or heard of before that’s beautiful and has a really unique aroma and flavor. It’s called Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria ordorata). It’s used prominently in Vietnamese cuisine, but also is used in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, and is usually included in salads, summer rolls, and soups. This plant is supposed to love warm and moist conditions, so I’m hoping that it will take well to the hot, humid summers we have here in Georgia. An interesting fact about Vietnamese Coriander, compliments of Wikipedia: apparently, many Buddhist monks grow it in their private gardens and eat it frequently to quell…well, amorous impulses. Hmm.
Who else out there is experimenting with some new herbs in their gardens this year?