Become an Herb Adventurer

I just read a great article over at Eatocracy about becoming a food adventurer. Are you afraid to try new foods? That octopus salad or the strange black strips in hot and sour soup can seem downright ominous to the uninitiated.

Admit it: the world of gastronomic adventure isn't all fun-flavored Easter jelly beans (or Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, either). Sometimes a mouthful of an unpronounceable exotic delicacy can taste like the stuff you rescue from the back of the fridge -- sniff -- and cram down the garbage disposal (or onto the compost pile).

Why You Should Become a Food Adventurer

Food adventures have advantages, though. Take turkey or chicken, for instance. When you prepare fowl, you want a nice moist mouthful. For most of us, though, if that breast bite isn't loaded with fat and sodium, the meat itself tastes pretty bland. Different cultures attack the problem with gusto, adding spices, herbs, vinegars, wines, marinades and sauces to keep that fowl from becoming boring or -- well -- foul.

Sesame chicken is zesty, and if you grew up with a Southern fried sensibility, it'll be an exotic and interesting addition to your repertoire. The same goes for mustard-tarragon chicken, cashew chicken and coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine). You may think one or two of the options you end up trying are nasty, but there are lots of chicken and turkey variations out there. You're bound to find one worth lusting after.

How Understanding Herbs Can Add to the Adventure

Okay, here's where herbs come in: If you understand the flavor and aroma of different herbs and spices, you won't have to guess when you're ordering from a new and mysterious menu. A brief description of the dish should alert you. If you despise fennel, that fennel salad isn't for you. If you think sage smells like mold, pass on the saltimbocca.

The flip side is that the flavors you do love, like cardamom, basil, cloves, garlic, shallots and sweet paprika will jump out at you from the menu (or recipe) and let you know this one's a keeper.

Try lots of different herbs, spices and blends to get a handle on what you like and what you don't. There are herb stores around that will let you sample the goods and explore new aromas and tastes free to see if you like them. There are also buffet dining options where you can try out ethnic foods and eat as much or as little of a dish as you like without ruining the meal for yourself -- or wasting the money.

Grow Your Own Adventure

Be bold. If you know you like a particular herb or vegetable, try growing it yourself. Delicacies like fried squash blossoms don't hit many restaurant menus and the flowers aren't available in stores, but if you plant a zucchini, they're free for the taking and you can still get an impressive squash harvest.

Fresh beats dried almost every time too. This is the year to dust off your pedal pushers and get back in the garden. Explore some new menu options and start a love affair with a few new tastes. When you discover herb flavors you like, buy a pot and give some leafy greens a home. It'll be the start of a great relationship -- one filled with adventures -- the kind with happy endings.


  1. I share your love of herbs. We will be adding herbs by dedicating a spot for them in addition to having them in the vegetable garden and around the flower beds. I can't wait!

  2. lovely post. I adore herbs and grew about 13 or so last year. Looking forward to growing more in the coming months.

    i agree with you in an earlier post about just getting outside and plant something ... one step at a time.

    I love growing the staple herbs and then trying a few new ones. I got St John's Wort to grow easily and I love lemon balm. I planted a grapefruit mint that was really interesting.

    Still love the basic herbs such as - rosemary, sage, basil, different thymes, dill, chives, flat leaf parsley. I grew great lettuce last year but found I let them die off in favour of the rocket leaves ... and they lasted months.

    There really is something special about growing your own herbs and then just wandering out and picking a bit of this and that to put in your dinner.


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