OUR VERY FIRST GARDEN TOGETHER WAS A collection of small terra-cotta pots filled with fragrant herbs and baby greens. Our tiny green space was cultivated on the second-story balcony of an apartment that we shared with two other roommates. These leaves not only fed us in the kitchen, but also nourished our spirits. They were the easiest plants to grow on our space-challenged little patio, and they brought us so much satisfaction. As long as we remembered to water them on hot summer days, we would have meals laced with the most tender herbaceous leaves. If we forgot the watering duties, then we had brown, crumbly twigs of freshly dried herbs. This was one of the many growing pains of learning to garden in small pots. But in the end we still felt successful because there was always an herb element to cook with and some small microgreens to eat.
When we finally bought a home with real gardening space, the first things we planted (right next to the kitchen door) were herbs we frequently used. Their ability to transform a recipe is unparalleled; a few leaves can turn a dish from ordinary to amazing. Sprigs of mint, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, and Vietnamese herbs have always made our cooking more layered in flavor. Whether added to enhance the freshness of an already exciting salad or rubbed into a roasted dish, the herbs fill the kitchen with their warm, earthy aromas.
You’ll always find a component of fresh leafy greens at our daily meals. The crisp bite of a bed of lettuce leaves us feeling satisfied and complete. Summer also means a plethora of handheld foods made with the season’s baby lettuces in a variety of colors and lacy textures. Sweet, delicate leaves are used to bundle chicken and other savory delights into lettuce wraps. When we’re satisfied with those, we move on to wrapping the leaves into a multitude of different spring rolls.
Without herbs and lettuces, Vietnamese dishes wouldn’t have their traditional layering of crunchy greens or their trademark flair of freshness. If we had to single out the ingredients most crucial to our kitchen garden, it would be the fresh herbs and leafy greens.
If you live in a tiny apartment or feel you don’t have a green thumb, try nurturing a few pots of herbs and lettuce seedlings on your windowsill. If you’re able to harvest a few handfuls of leaves for your next dish, you can consider yourself a successful gardener. It’s not the quantity of what your garden grows that’s important. What matters most is the joy and satisfaction that even the tiniest of nature’s leaves can bring.
© 2013 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.