Whether you live in a suburban house with a large yard, or a high rise apartment with just a balcony, you can create a simple soup and salad garden that will add freshness and verve to your daily meals.
All you need is a small plot of well tilled earth or a few large pots filled with nourishing soil. You can grow a mix of herbs, flowers and vegetables that look beautiful but are wonderfully practical and useful as well.
Start with the herbs. You don’t need a huge selection to add fresh flavor to your soups and salads, just a few versatile favorites.
Remember the old song, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme? These four are a good rule of thumb to remember when trying to decide which herbs to grow. Parsley is a versatile, bushy plant with distinctively flavored leaves that can used chopped fresh in salads or sprinkled in soups. Try steaming vegetables with a few sprigs of parsley, as it also can be used as a side vegetable. A strong healthy parsley plant goes on producing for you, even as you pick fresh springs to use.
Sage and thyme are classic soup herbs. They add a comforting flavor to lovely hot winter soups and stews, which reminds everyone of their childhood. But they can also be added to summer salads or chopped and stirred into dressings and mayonnaise. If you have more sage and thyme than you can use, simply pick the sprigs, tie them together and hang them up to dry for winter use.
Rosemary is the Queen of herbs, a lovely aromatic bush that grows equally well in the garden or in a pot. This herb goes especially well with lamb, and is perfect for a roast – you just cut slits in the meat and slide in a couple of leaves here and there. Crush a few leaves with a pestle and mortar and add them to salad dressing, or tie in a bunch with sage and thyme, and slide into the soup pot.
Two herbs you must have are mint and basil. Mint comes in a variety of types – including spearmint, chocolate and pineapple mint! Grow more than one if you like the variety, but even in a garden, keep mint contained in a pot. It tends to wander. Mint adds a delicious freshness to pea or potato soup, and perks up even the plainest salad. Add finely chopped mint to mayonnaise and serve it with cold lamb and salad. Mint can also be added to summer drinks.
Basil is an essential herb in any kitchen. Again, there are several varieties to choose from, including sweet basil and purple basil. Grow both or choose the one you prefer. Basil adds a true Tuscan flavor to Italian salad and dressings, and is superb with minestrone.
Flowers may seem an odd source of soup and salad ingredients, but once you taste the peppery tang of a nasturtium leaf, you will want to grow your own. They look simply beautiful spilling over the borders of your garden, or the edges of a pot and you can use both the flowers and leaves in salads.
Marigold is another showy plant that has its uses in the kitchen. You can scatter the petals over salads and desserts, or add them to cakes.
Borage is an herb, but it is also a very pretty flowering plant that can be grown for ornamental and kitchen use. The leaves have a cucumber tang that is excellent in salads, and the flowers can be scattered over a salad or floated on summer drinks.
Growing vegetables may be harder in a small space, but it can be done. Climbers like beans and snow peas can be trained up balcony rails or trellises, Most varieties of tomatoes can be grown in pots and tied to stakes as they grow, but the best are probably Roma ( which are excellent for Italian cooking and for bottling) or the small, sweet `cherry’ tomatoes which can be grown anywhere, even in hanging baskets.
Don’t try to grow onions, sometimes these can change the flavor of other items in your garden. But do add a patch or a pot of chives, as you can keep cutting the green shoots for use and more will grow.
Look for dwarf varieties of other plants, like vegetables and even fruit trees, which can all be added to your soup and salad garden to flourish in a small space.
by Gail Kavanagh