At this time of year and throughout the summer, I am very, very glad that we have a garden with so much fruit and vegetables in it. When there is nothing much in the house to eat, we can wander the garden, pick whatever is ready to be harvested, combine it with whatever we have in the fridge and cupboards and make a simple meal.
Whether is is making a pesto with our herbs or adding rocket to a pizza or simply making a green salad to go with a baked potato and cheese, a little bit of something from the garden can make a scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel dinner a lot more enticing.
We have our own little farmers’ market, in a way.
But you don’t need a garden to enjoy the benefits of growing some of your own food. Even with a windowsill, a balcony or a few pots at the back door, you can grow so much – rocket, radishes, spring onions, tomatoes, strawberries, pepppers, letttuce, cress and all manner of herbs.
Another great thing is that small scale growing is a great way to entertain children. From planting to watching for shoots and seeing them develop to the harvesting and eating, there is always something to be done.
Younger children love to water plants and pull up the ripe radishes or pluck tomatoes and strawberries from their vines and pop them straight into their mouths. From about five years of age children have a better understanding of how to care for seedlings and have more patience to observe the growth and wait for the plants to ripen.
They gain a sense of responsibility and achievement too, as well as the learning process of how food grows, where it comes from and the work that goes into creating it. So, really, when you look at it, your little pot of cress grown from seed is so much more than it seems at first glance. It holds a wealth of educational value, and not just for children. Since I started growing my own food 13 years ago, I have found that my appreciation for the food growing process has increased greatly.
With a bit of imagination and a few basic ingredients in the kitchen, you can prepare simple, tasty meals, salads and side dishes with your home grown plants. Take these for example.
Windowsill Salad: pick an assortment of what you have growing in your garden / on your windowsill. Chop or tear it into pieces and dress with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and add a pinch of salt, if needed.
Our windowsill salad last night consisted of a small bunch of rocket, some very finely sliced radish and a few springs of marjoram and savory.
Windowsill Supper – Herb Omlet: Whisk a few eggs with a splash of milk, salt, pepper and some chopped or torn fresh herbs. Pour into the pan and fry till set. You can add some grated cheese before the egg has set and then fold the omlet in half. Once the cheese has melted and the egg is set, remove from the pan and serve immediately.
Windowsill Supper – Baked Potato with Herb Dip or Herb Butter: bake a large potato with the skin on, either in your oven or in the microwave. While it is baking, chop a selection of fresh herbs and mix them into some creme fraiche, natural yogurt or mash them into a knob of butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the potato is cooked, carefully cut a cross into the top, squeeze the potato from below to open it and then dollop in the dip or butter.
Store Cupboard Side Dish: place 125g cous cous into a large, heatproof bowl. Pour 250ml boiling water over it. Add 5 dsps olive oil, several sprigs of fresh mint, chopped, (alternatively 2 tsps dried mint), 2 diced tomatoes from the garden, the juice of half a lemon and 1/2 tsp -1 tsp salt, depending on your taste. Stir well, cover and leave for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir again before serving.
This cous cous is perfect as an accompaniment to grilled meats or fish or as part of a mixed buffet of salads.
Store Cupboard Salad: Open a couple of tins of chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans or whatever varieties you have available. Drain and rinse the beans / chickpeas. Place them into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, stir together some dijon mustard (I prefer the grainy type), finely chopped fresh herbs from your windowsill, a small amount of olive oil, a dash of vinegar (cidre vinegar, white wine vinegar or simply some lemon or lime juice) and some salt and pepper. If you have peppers and / or spring onions you can add them too. You can grate in a clove of garlic also if you want. Pour the dressing over the beans, stir gently to coat but not crush the beans and serve.
Store Cupboard Supper – Feta & Herb Pasta: Boil lightly salted water for pasta and cook the pasta as usual. While the pasta is cooking, mash a block of feta cheese along with a good splash of olive oil, a clove of garlic and some fresh herbs from your windowsill or mixed dried herbs from the cupboard. (Optional: mash in a few chili flakes). Drain the pasta when it is cooked and immediately stir the cheese mixture through it and serve straight away.
If you have no garlic, you can use chives or spring onion. If you have no feta, cream cheese would work almost as well but you would need to add more seasoning than with feta, which can be rather salty.