There’s no better way to take your home cooking to the next level than throwing a few herbs into the pot. The careful addition of a sprig of thyme or fragrant introduction of a handful of mint leaves can transform a run-of-the-mill midweek tea to a restaurant-quality experience.
Good to be Home gave you the excellent Herb Growing Cheat Sheet, however, even our most green-fingered readers may feel intimidated by the thought of growing all 11 herbs featured on the infographic. Therefore, we have asked some top chefs which herbs they think are the most important to have growing on the window sill.
Chris Turner, Interim Chef at Chefs Jobs UK, explains why growing our own herbs is a great idea:
‘There’s something very satisfying about growing your own herbs, a sprinkling of dill, thyme or rosemary can add that professional touch to any of your home-made dishes. But there is something even better about using your own herbs than just feeling smug.
‘A great deal of the nutrients are lost within the first 30 minutes of harvesting plants, and the herbs that you can pick up in the supermarket may be fairly cheap but there’s every chance they will have been grown in artificial conditions and sprayed with pesticides. Therefore growing your own herbs can be a beneficial and cost-effective way to add something extra to your meals.
‘All good chefs have their own rosemary, coriander, basil and parsley plants, although there is a vast array of herbs available that you can grow in your own homes. It’s up to you to play around with different flavours and decide which ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
‘Herbs require little space to grow and lots of light, which makes them ideal window sill plants for any kitchen. If you do want to start your own patch outside, plant seeds into a pot and cover them with a loose layer of compost.
‘Wrap the top of the pot in cling film to create a microclimate in which the seeds can germinate, once they have developed you can thin them out into different smaller pots. If nurtured properly these little plants will add plenty of flavour to your dishes for years to come.’
The Vegetarian Chef
Vegetarian chef and author of At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, Amy Chaplin recommends two old favourites as vital kitchen companions:
‘I would say that rosemary and sage are the best herbs to grow when you have little space, like me, as they are potent and you don’t usually use more than a couple of tablespoons at a time. I also like growing basil as a few leaves can transform tomatoes on toast into something surprisingly delicious!’
The Two-star Michelin Chef
Michael Caines MBE is head chef at Gidleigh Park in Dartmoor and author of At Home. He believes herbs are indispensable to any chef:
‘Herbs are — and should be — hugely important ingredients in anyone’s kitchen. They are so easy to grow, in pots on the window sill, in the conservatory, or outdoors on a terrace, balcony or in the garden. At Gidleigh Park, we have an extensive kitchen garden with a wide selection of herbs that we make use of every day.
‘Herbs are versatile and add a real boost of flavour. Sometimes they can even be a main element in a dish, with pesto, for example, made from an abundance of fragrant basil when in season.
‘Coriander, which is so easy to grow, adds an Asian touch to dishes, with its distinctive pungent flavour. Tarragon is excellent with chicken — but should be used in moderation as it can be overpowering. Even something as basic as parsley is indispensable. Being a robust herb, it not only adds flavour, it also keeps its bright green colour. Herbs are an important element in cooking and are best when freshly picked. So there is no excuse not to try your hand at growing them yourselves.” — Michael Caines MBE, two-star Michelin chef at Gidleigh Park
The Anglo-Indian Chef
Anglo-Indian food writer Manju Malhi, who wrote Classic Indian Recipes: 75 Signature Dishes prefers herbs which supply the vibrant flavours needed for her dishes:
‘I find that mint and coriander are the most useful herbs for me to grow in the kitchen. A lot of the dishes I prepare often need that zingy flavour that freshly grown herbs offer. Coriander acts as a vibrant and zesty garnish to many of my Indian preparations and mint leaves are handy when making luxurious biryanis and other rice dishes.’
The Nutrition Expert
Author of Get The Glow and nutritional health coach Madeleine Shaw also likes the hardy and versatile qualities of mint:
‘Mint is the best thing to have in the garden, it grows like wild fire, it’s great chopped in salads and makes a great fresh mint brew at the end of a long day. Another great herb to grow yourself is rosemary, it makes your garden smell beautiful and its pretty tough through the harsh UK weather.’
Farmer and television chef Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy’s Farm loves herbs which can be used in a multitude of dishes:
‘I grow loads of kitchen herbs indoors and outdoors. Some of the more leafy ones can thrive in the warmer environment inside such as coriander and flat leaf parsley. I always think Thyme and Rosemary are really useful to have on hand for cooking as they’re so versatile. I also grow Oregano which is ideal for making my kids’ favourite spag bol!’
So if you have a free window sill in your kitchen or space outside why not grow your own herbs and raise you culinary game. Do you have a favourite herb which hasn’t been mentioned by our selection of chefs? Give a shout out to your preferred herb in the comments section below.