Clever Cooks, Gardening on a Budget

Herbalicious

‘Herbs are absolutely at the cornerstone of all genius cooking,’ says Jamie Oliver on one of his 30-Minute Meals videos. ‘If you have herbs in your cooking, you have more flavours and sensations and dynamism in your cooking.’

Delia Smith agrees: ‘One way to prevent life getting dull when you’re saving money on cooking is to stock up with a few herbs and spices…It is the subtle addition that gives a touch of luxury to the simplest dishes’ (via Delia’s Frugal Food).

And it’s true. Herbs can transport your chicken thighs and watery tomatoes to Morocco (cumin, tumeric, ginger and cinnamon), Italy (parsley or basil), or Mexico (coriander and chilli) without subtracting $$$ from your wallet or adding to your waistline.

Bought herbs can come either freshly cut or dried. Both have their uses: ‘Dried herbs lend themselves to braised meats, stews and dishes that require longer cooking times. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, are fantastic when added at the end of the cooking process in order to add fragrance and colour. Also, fresh herbs can turn a simple salad from average to amazing’ (Pete Evans via Gardening Central).

Most of us gravitate towards dry herbs in the ubiquitous Masterfoods jars, but it can be cheaper to buy in bulk from grocers, specialty shops, and other places. Whatever you do, always buy herbs with quality airtight packaging to ensure maximum flavour. Stay clear of costly premixed blends; they might make you feel like a Masterchef, but a clever cook knows how to make their own bouquet garni.

At home, keep your dried herbs away from heat and light. Moisture also ruins herbs, so don’t store them in the fridge or tap your spice jars above a pot of steaming whatever.

Freshly cut herbs can be bought from the greengrocer or the supermarket. They can retail from $1 – $5. When buying herbs, avoid anything that is discoloured or wilted; it won’t survive the trip home. To prolong the life of freshly cut herbs, wrap a damp piece of paper towel around the cut ends and then store loosely in plastic (either cling wrap, freezer bag or a partially closed container) in the fridge. Otherwise, copy The $120 Food Challenge’s Sandra Reynolds and make mushroom-shaped sculptures.

Mustbethrifty types who have access to sunshine via a backyard, balcony or window sill should try growing their own herbs. Purchased as seeds or seedlings, they’re value for money even if they’re only used once.

Dried or freshly cut, store-bought or grow-your-own, in the words of Jamie Oliver, herbs can ‘rock your cooking’. And if you treat your herbs right, they’ll make your dollars stretch a long way.

22 years and 4 months to go,

M.

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