If the rabbits don’t attack and devour your rhubarb then you might have enough to use in the kitchen for a colorful splash to any dish. I haven’t been so lucky. The rabbits have not only discovered my rhubarb stash in the here and now but year after year they seem to remember exactly where it was planted. And don’t get me started on what the squirrels and deer did to all my fancy bulbs this past spring. Absolute sob story. Another time! Rhubarb is special because it can be the star of both sweet and savory dishes, something every good cook cherishes. Not to mention the color. Eye-popping bold color means it looks lovely in that pie but is also a welcome addition to your stew. That is if the rabbits don’t get to it first. Because a solid and sustainable working home kitchen that crunches out several meals a day requires certain ingredients, many of which can be grown yourself with little effort. Why not explore this must-have growing list to save yourself a little green on healthier food?
Green onions (scallions)
Lots of restaurants top their eggs with green onions. Why shouldn’t they? Scallions add both color and flavor to breakfast. But their real superpower is enjoying them in just about every meal and snack of the day. Soups and stews? Yup, you’ll use them. And that’s what a good kitchen gardener does….grow what they love to eat….grow what they’ll prepare and use. This way, you’re eating and devouring organic food that didn’t cost you a fortune at the grocery store.
Granted my colored peppers aren’t nearly as large as the luscious ones that can be purchased in the grocery store. But they’re mine and they are organic! I grew them and that makes me somewhat proud. Besides, colored peppers have so many uses. They’re so sweet that my kids actually eat them raw for some great nutrition. And since none of us aside from Tom even remotely like green peppers, colored peppers win the day! Maybe I don’t get a ton to harvest, but we enjoy them both fresh and cooked and they are lovely all summer long. Just munching on them raw or in a salad is a joy. Or I’ll cook them up to perk up an omellete or steak. Colored peppers take you from breakfast to lunch right onto dinner.
Ten years ago, eggplant wasn’t even on my radar. But in today’s garden and in my kitchen, it’s a huge asset. What changed? I learned how to cook it. So whether I bread it for eggplant Parmesan or roast it with potatoes and onions in the oven, it all gets eaten. What shocked me the most? How easy eggplant is to grow from seed. I had no idea until I tried growing it myself in little peat pots that I transplanted into my raised beds. I got roughly three eggplant per plant. Not too shabby and that was about all we could eat anyhow. Maybe they weren’t huge, but they were satisfying. Besides, my eggplant is organic and chemical-free and I felt comfortable eating it even with the skins on as they had not been sprayed with any pesticide.
I love the taste of basil so much that even my thrifty self indulges in a live plant or two in the dead of winter from the grocery stores wimpy selection. I do this knowing full well the plant is only going to survive a few weeks if that on my kitchen perch before it shudders from the cold and shrivels to die. Even so, I pluck those tender leaves and add them to my dishes for instant out of season gratification. And it’s still cheaper than eating out. Try growing it from seed for a huge bumper crop, even indoors then transplant outside. I’ve had success both ways. You can certainly attempt to dry it (which I still do) but dry is not the same as fresh in my modest opinion.
My older daughter won’t touch asparagus. But my youngest? She devours it. Maybe it’s just all the asparagus characters on the Veggie Tales movies she watches while I work on my blog. I don’t know! But regardless, she eats it and I’m happy. And did you know? Asparagus is actually a weed. But it seems so sophisticated when the Olive Garden serves it up as an appetizer. I like roasting it with some balsamic vinegar in the oven especially in spring when lighting the oven adds a little warmth to my otherwise chilly house.
Mesclun mix salad
Honestly, I didn’t always enjoy a good salad like I do now. But then I got married and found myself looking absolutely befuddled when my new husband asked where his salad was. It was simple. He grew up eating salads. I didn’t. But I’ve come around to his way of thinking. Although romaine will always be my favorite, there’s still a place for the fancy mesclun mix salad. When you grow it yourself, it’s so frail that it practically withers up when you try to wash it. So I try to pluck it after a good rain. Sometimes I get super lucky and it will rain and then the sun will come out to dry it out. Nice! The funniest part about growing my own food, in particular salad, is that my kids are more likely to eat it when reminded that we grew this ourselves.
Rosemary is a fierce weapon in the battle of food and it wins every time. But buying it at the store in a teeny, tiny jar will set you back at least 5 bucks. So you must try growing it yourself for a complete kitchen experience. Germinating from seed works just okay in my experience. I can get them to sprout but they just never get big enough. So I buy a few plants from the local nursery and winter them over as best I can when fall strikes. This is why I prefer growing it in a single pot all by its lonesome. It can be carried inside my sun room when the weather takes a temperature dive. Be sure to dry your excess for fresh flavor year-round. Just last night, I tried seasoning my chicken pot pie with rosemary instead of my traditional tarragon and it was scrumptious!
Consider yourself lucky if any cherry tomatoes actually make it into your kitchen. It’s more likely that your family and perhaps even your friends have popped them innocently enough in their mouths before you had a chance to harvest. This is why I plant at least 20 cherry tomato plants eat year. They are my most demanded crop! No surprise as they do taste like candy. I used to strictly plant sweet million cherry tomatoes but have moved on to include some of the yellow varieties too. And guess what? They are just as sweet but add a little more color to my food. If…..and that’s a big “if” I have any extra at the end of the season, I add them to my homemade tomato sauce (you know, the kind you push and crank through a strainer?) for sweetness in lieu of sugar. Yum!
Love roasted turkey? Me too. It’s delicious and lean meat. But without sage can you make a turkey? Unlikely. Your best bet is to grow it yourself and dry it so you have it in your herb off-season. Besides, sage is a stuffing classic, so go ahead, make the boxed variety and add a little fresh sage to spice up your life. Plus, the flavor is so intense, you only need a teeny, tiny bit to season any dish. (Translation, due to this intensity, one plant will go a loooong way.) With its pine-like aroma, you must have it in your kitchen and your kitchen garden. Best of all, it’s pretty easy and economical to grow. It will be quite content in a container garden, so try it on your kitchen windowsill.
I grew onions, red onions to be precise for the first time two years ago. I’m so glad I did. Raw, they made such a welcome addition to my boring salads. And there’s plenty of onion love to go around here because the white and yellow varieties get used just as much in this household. You know how much you rely on onion in the kitchen, maybe it’s time you try your hand at growing your own? It’s true. The homegrown variety don’t get as big as the ones I buy in the grocery store. But they are small and tasty and that’s what counts most. Besides, onions belongs to that nutrient dense allium family. The allium family also includes garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives and all these vegetables are nutrient powerhouses. Alliums contain organosulfur compounds, phytonutrients that may help protect us against microbial infections, cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation. Just one more reason onions make me cry…happy tears of course!
Sugar snap peas
I don’t know that there’s a more versatile veggie on earth than a pea. Just look at them dangling? Don’t they warm your heart? Eat them raw or cooked. Try them in any salad or stir fry for instant happiness. Ramble through your garden when you’re hungry and chomp on a few for a healthy snack. Kids love them! No kitchen snack or full meal is complete with a few when in season. Grow them in early spring and again in the fall for a double dose of a fabulous crop.
Yellow summer squash
Your knife is waiting to slice into a bit of produce paradise the moment you pluck a few of these beauties off the plant. So easy to grow, all it wants is full sun, warm temps, good soil, and steady moisture. You’ve seen all those summer squash baseball bats out there so I don’t have to tell you that it’s a high yield vegetable. With your bounty, the choice is yours on how-to prepare. I like to simmer mine stove top with a little onion and garlic. Add some chicken and rice and dinner has practically made itself. But it can be roasted and added to soups and stews as well. The options are truly endless. I’ve tried growing it from nursery plants, sowing the seeds indoors to be transplanted and sowing the seeds right into the garden. What worked best? The seeds sowed directly in the garden. But if you only have a few pots, try a seed or two in those for fun.
Without garlic, I’d argue that you can’t have a kitchen garden. Not possible. For flavor and to savor, you need to add garlic to just about everything. And don’t you just love the the added taste minus unnecessary calories? It’s a rare dish that I don’t want to add garlic to and by that I’m referring to dessert. Everything else seems to get a good dose! I already mentioned that garlic is part of that nutrient super hero allium family with those onions, but I forgot to tell you how easy it is to plant and later pluck and store. Plus, I love how it gets planted in the fall, and better still, planted by Tom who seems to sincerely enjoy the job. Every year, my bulbs get bigger and badder which makes using it in the kitchen that much easier. Well worth lots garden space! Last fall, over 35 of my larger bulbs were planted, I’ll be showing you my crop soon.
This is my oregano plant. It’s big, flowing and even attractive. The original plant I bought several years ago was a tiny thing but each subsequent year it gets bigger and better. I use in to my hearts content in every dish and dry what’s left for winter. Dried or fresh, your kitchen culinary skills want oregano within arms reach the next time you make dinner. Sure, it’s the star of the show in any Italian dish, but I’m learning more and more not to hesitate grinding it in other meals as well.
Confession: I wasn’t always a fennel fan. But as I expand my territory in the cooking world, I can’t live without the aromatic fennel. What’s fun about fennel is that it’s used both as an herb and as a vegetable. And if your taste buds celebrate anise, you’re in luck because fennel gives off that slightly sweet, but little-bit of spice vibe. The bulbs as shown in the above pic are shredded in salads, braised with fish or chicken and pureed into soups and sauces. But what about those feathery green leaves? Ready to indulge in the entire head of fennel? Like parsley, some cooks are using even the still edible stalks and leaves as a garnish as well as in their dishes for less waste. Those slender stalks mirror celery in both taste and crunch factor so when you run out of one, it doesn’t hurt to make a quick substitute. Cook down like an onion in stir-fries, pastas, or braises. But my favorite use is just roasted in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Maybe the reason that I never use salad dressing is because I don’t like soggy, wimpy lettuce. I like it firm with a solid crunch. Bring on the romaine salad. Baby romaine? Even better. Whether dinner is Italian or Thai, I always cram a salad in for extra fiber and extra green nutrition. Growing it yourself is fantastic. You wander out into the garden, pluck, sometimes wash it (and sometimes I don’t since mine is organic and the rinsing makes it soggy) and crunch crunch crunch. Every home kitchen gardener should grow it. Besides, have you checked the prices on organic salad lately?
I was getting kind of tired and want to end this post but I just realized that parsley wasn’t yet on this list. But what self-respecting kitchen gardener can call themselves such without growing and harvesting parsley? Forget thinking about parsley as just that frilly garnish on your plate. Not only is it a natural breath freshener, but it adds a bright spot of color to whatever I’m making. Boiled mini potatoes without those bright green parsley flecks? Bleh. And did you know? Parsley has more vitamin C than an orange? Insane! At times, I even sneak some into my smoothies for a big, nutrient boost.