Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cool herbs for locavores

When you've restricted yourself to a locavore diet, there are just some things we take for granted in everyday life that are suddenly not an option anymore. Eating seasonally is fun because you're basically eating the freshest, best tasting produce out there. It also means there are some things that just aren't available year round, so I've started to put together a list of goodies that work as great replacements or substitues for other out of season or hard to grow items. Herbs are great as container plants and most of these are fairly easy to grow for novice gardeners. Check out your local garden center for some of these harder to find herbs. I love Freret Garden Center and Banting's Nursery as well as the plants/herb guy at CCFM, who always has a great selection of herbs.

Lemon and Limes. There's just no replacing lemon juice. its a winter citrus and just isnt available in the summer time. Limes on the other hand can sometimes be found year round. Key lime trees can grow well in nola and produce fruit most of the year, but unless you have a tree, they can still be hard to find. Cane vinegar or white wine are also acidic and can replace lemon juice in many recipes--they'll definitely add their own flavor, but in a pinch it can work.

Don't freeze citrus! It ruins the texture, but if you want to truly commit to the locavore diet, the freezer is your friend. Zest the lemons first, then you can squeeze them and freeze both the juice and zest in freezer friendly containers.

lemon verbena Lemon Verbena is a great substitute for lemon zest. The leaves can be tough, so mince them very finely. Alternately use a whole leaf to season a dish and remove it before serving. It can also be steeped in hot water for tea or in milk to create a flavored base for ice cream, sorbet, or pudding. Like many herbs you can bury a few leaves in a container of sugar and use to flavor cookies, doughs, or make a simple syrup. Add dried, crumbled leaves to rice just before serving for a little umph.

Pineapples. Actually will grow here, but only in containers. Their root system is shallow so they don't need a terribly large pot, but they absolutely can not handle freezing temperatures, so pots need to be brought indoors during harsh winter nights. New plants can take up to 2-3 years to produce fruit, so this is definitely a long term project. Mine is about a year old right now, so fingers crossed, maybe next June I'll get lucky. Here's some more info if you're interested, all it takes is cutting the top from a  mature, ripe pineapple.  

Pineapple Sage is a great herb that grows very easily here. Many folks use it as an ornamental plant, because its bushy and green most of the year and produces pretty red flowers when it blooms. It can be used very much like lemon verbena--with sugar, in a simple syrup, steeped in milk or water etc. As soon as you pick it you will be surprised how pineapple-y it smells, but the flavor is also very subtle, so use it in a dish where it can stand out and not be overwhelmed by other spices or herbs. I love it sauteed with shrimp and butter. Its simple and sweet and lets the tropical pineapple flavor stand out.

Vietnamese cilantro, unlike traditional cilantro will grow well in Nola year long. We're just too hot for traditional cilantro, which will do well in the spring and then go to seed during our hot summers. Vietnamese cilantro can be used in place of regular cilantro in most recipes. The leaves have the best flavor when they are young and the older the get, they become tough and leathery. The plant can be cut back down any time during the growing season to produce more fresh young leaves. If the plant seems slow to recover from a cutting, it may need to be repotted or divided. Its so much easier to grow than traditional cilantro, and great in a container that can be brought inside during the winter. 

Lavender mint, like many in the mint family are super easy to grow, and much much easier than lavender, which doesn't tolerate our hot humid climate very well. Mint is invasive though, and will spread easily if planted in the ground. Which makes it a good container plant or if you're looking for something that will provide ground cover. It has a wonderful lavender scent and can be used like Lemon Verbena and Pineapple Sage to flavor sugar, milk, etc.  

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