Spring is finally here—the time for renewal and new life! In Abenaki it is Zigwan, meaning the months of March, April and May.
Just as the warm weather is rolling in and sunlight is bathing the land, I am starting to plant my container gardens on the patio, including herbs and edible flowers. I have gone online to find heirloom Native seeds, and there is no shortage of suppliers: Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org) and Cultural Conservancy (www.nativeland.org)—just to mention a few. You can order tepary beans, heirloom tomatoes, unusual corn varieties—you name it. Once you receive the seeds in the mail, you grow it and eat it.
Spring is the time to break ground and plant. If you are not in a place where that is possible, support your local farmer’s market and community garden. Although, no matter where you live, a couple of potted herbs in a window can really make a difference in your cooking.
Try growing basil, thyme, sage, parsley, chive and perhaps some mint. Even lettuce can grow in pot if the sun's rays can reach it. The two most important things I plant early in the season are spinach and curley parsley, because they can stand some cold weather.
One way to liven your recipes is to grow your own herbs. I was surprised to learn there are more than 30 varieties of parsley. The curley is still my favorite but flat leafed Italian parsley is very popular. It is interesting to note that “bouquet garni,” called for in many recipes, is a combination of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. When a recipe calls for “fine herbs” that just means a combination of any three herbs, such as: thyme, parsley and basil; or chives, parsley and thyme; or chervil, chives and tarragon.
As always, these herbs are much more flavorful when picked fresh as opposed to purchased at the store. All the herbs provide essential nutrients. Parsley, especially, is a great source of vitamin C, iodine, iron and chlorophyll. Another favorite herb of mine is coriander, often known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. It is nearly impossible to make some Southwest recipes without it. It is also a featured herb in Thai, Chinese and Mexican cooking.
Cilantro has a very distinct flavor and aroma; some say it is like a mix of anise, sage, cumin and orange. This herb can also grow well in a pot on your windowsill. It germinates fast; however, it doesn’t transplant well. So if you really like it, make successive plantings. It is a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese. Both curley parsley and cilantro should be stored with their roots in a glass of cold water and covered loosely with a plastic bag.
Parsley & Hummus Dip or Spread
1 cup of parsley leaves, packed
1 8-ounce package of hummus-tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon caynenne pepper
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, mashed
Mix all together and chill. To serve, garnish with black olives and parsley. Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread triangles.
Cilantro & Lime Salad Dressing
¾ extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt Fresh ground black pepper
Combine all in a jar and shake until smooth and mixed well. Chill in the fridge until ready to use and then shake well before serving.
Also see Dale Carson's recipe for basil pesto.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.