When I haven’t been able to go home, since I can’t ever move back to Lebanon, I’ve dug in at each location on my life’s journey with an herb garden, recreating the tastes and smells of home. In the picture above, I’m sitting in front of my garden I dug up behind my apartment in college. Herbs gift me with a sense of permanence because most herbs are perennial, returning every year with either self-seeding or self-rooting. I count on their consistent presence. An herb harvest is plentiful, yielding its bounty season after season. Herbs are easy to process whether used fresh or dried for later. And herbs grow like weeds because that’s what they are!
My go-to herbs are reminiscent of the Mediterranean pallet: flat leaf parsley, spearmint, oregano, thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, basil, and rosemary. If I have these basic herbs at hand, then most of my culinary needs are met except for the aromatics like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom, which I purchase already processed and dried.
No space for a garden? That’s not a problem. Plant your herbs in patio containers and let them grace a sunny spot on your back porch or apartment stoop. Even parsley and arugula can thrive in dappled shade. Some herbs like basil, dill, and cilantro grow better in pots because you can winterize them indoors. Also, it is preferable to cultivate mint in a container anyway or in a bottomless bucket buried right in the bed because its creeping fast growing stems root underground and spread invasively. However, be sure this in-ground bucket of mint is a foot deep in the ground and the lip is several inches high above the dirt level to deter the roots from crossing over into other plants.
One of my favorite appetizers is a homegrown dried herbal dipping mixture tossed with garlic salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl at the dining table or coffee table, mix this herbal concoction with olive oil. Serve with your favorite crusty baguette or pita bread as dippers. Your family will feel fancy and special like they’re dining out at a grand restaurant. Hospitality at its best is easy and convenient, just like your own personalized herbal garden ready to cater to your spontaneous serving whims.
Which herbs and spices give you a taste of home?
Herb Dipping Mix
1 T dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp pepper