Spice up your cooking with three simple ingredients from the garden
Author Jeanne Kelley adds three fragrant herbs to her kitchen garden to enliven her summertime cooking.
Recipes in This Story
Jeanne Kelley is an avid cook, gardener, food stylist, and writer. A longtime contributor to food publications, she combines her talents in three cookbooks; the latest, Kitchen Garden Cookbook, is a primer for a garden of edibles, including a variety of fresh herbs waiting to be snipped from pots, window boxes, or raised beds to invigorate summer cooking.
“A big part of being a cook is sourcing your ingredients,” says Kelley, who is shown above in her kitchen herb garden. “The best ingredients are those you grow yourself. Herb gardens are beautiful with fragrant possibilities. They add wonderful flavor to food and contribute to a delightful decor in your garden.”
Kelley’s herb garden goes beyond the ubiquitous parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, bumping up the quotient of aromatics with fragrant lavender, lemon verbena, and savory. She uses their unusual flavors to round out the most basic dishes.
The forward floral flavor of lavender pairs well with honey, cheeses, baked goods, ice cream, and even chicken, perfuming a dish with a hint of the South of France. Added to vinaigrette and tossed with Cherry Tomato, Green Bean, and Wax Bean Salad, lavender gives the salad an unexpected floral burst. Toasted bread crumbs add crunch.
Lemon verbena has a fresh, citrusy quality; there’s a hint of lemon without its puckery notes. Use it to make a syrup for drinks and baked goods; thinly sliced, it brightens salads or adds spark to grilled fish or chicken. “I make Lemon Verbena Granita for a dessert I can prepare in advance,” Kelley says. “Pairing it with Limoncello Cream creates an elegant, delicately flavored combination.
“Savory is an underappreciated herb,” Kelley says of this aromatic annual. It has a slightly menthol, woodsy flavor and is often used as a summer substitute for more power-fully scented rosemary. A little bit of savory will go a long way in dressing up beef and pork. The leaves have a lot of body and stand up well to grilling, as in Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Nectarines with a Savory Rub. “This dish has a minty and slightly resinous flavor,” she says. “The savory rub brings out unexpected sweet and tart nuances in the fruit and pork combination.”
Alongside their culinary talents, consider the advantages these herbs have in the garden. A lavender border or a handsome line of potted herbs takes a kitchen garden from utilitarian to gorgeous. That’s the kind of double dipping we like.
Photography: Peter Krumhardt
There are many varieties of lavender; English lavender is a good culinary varietal. Check with your local nursery to find which type is best suited to your area. Lavender loves the sun, so decide whether a border or movable pots work best for you.
Lavender flowers and buds are best for cooking. Release their flavor by steeping the buds in liquid, chopping and adding to batters, or grinding and adding to sugar. Harvest lavender by cutting the stem close to the foliage. The most flavorful blossoms are those that have not completely bloomed, but are violet in color. Rubbing the buds between your fingers releases their essential oils.
Lavender blossoms infuse the red wine and olive oil vinaigrette that dresses a fresh summer Cherry Tomato, Green Bean, and Wax Bean Salad .
Summer savory is an annual that can be started from seed or purchased at a nursery. Sow it wherever there’s plenty of sun, and water often. It will flower in late summer. Winter savory is an evergreen and prefers well-drained soil.
Both summer and winter savory can be used for cooking, each in its namesake season. Add several sprigs to cooking liquid for legumes, or chop the leaves and stir into rice or grains as they cook. Harvest savory about one-third down the stem. Remove the leaves by grasping the top of the stem and gently pulling the stem through your fingers. This method works for most stemmed herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Nectarines  are enhanced by a savory-cinnamon-garlic rub and a generous drizzle of honey.
This perennial does well in both cold- and warm-weather climates. In colder areas, situate it in pots (near your favorite patio chair to best enjoy the scent), and move indoors to overwinter. It enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.
Lemon verbena packs a wallop flavoring teas and syrups or infused in milk; it also pairs well with tangy ingredients. Chop the coarse leaves very fine when used fresh, or strain them out when cooked in liquids. The leaves from this plant can grow up to 4 inches; use the smaller ones for cooking. Combine finely chopped leaves with sugar, then store to create a lemon-infused sugar for baking and for syrups and teas.
Lemon Verbena Granita has a subtle lemon perfume. Double the pleasure with Limoncello Cream. Find the recipe here .
Cherry Tomato, Green Bean, and Wax Bean Salad with Lavender Vinaigrette
Lavender lends its floral note to a red wine vinaigrette. The country bread croutons do double duty, adding crunch to the salad and soaking up some of the vinaigrette.
If using dried lavender use about 1/8 teaspoon; increase the amount for more flavor, tasting as you go. Do not use more than 1/4 teaspoon.
• 6 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 3-inch lengths
• 6 ounces wax beans, trimmed, cut into 3-inch lengths
• 1-1/2 cups coarsely torn country bread pieces (crouton size, about 3 ounces)
• 3-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
• 2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
• 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
• Kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon fresh lavender blossoms
• 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (10 ounces)
• 1/2 cup chopped red onion
• Freshly ground black pepper
In large saucepan, add beans to rapidly boiling salted water. Cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain beans; plunge into cold water to cool. Drain beans well.
Preheat oven to 375°F. In small shallow roasting pan, toss croutons with
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon of thyme, and 1 minced garlic clove. Sprinkle lightly with salt; toast in oven until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In large bowl whisk remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons thyme, garlic clove, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and lavender to blend. Add green and wax beans, tomatoes, and red onion to dressing; season with pepper. Toss to combine. Stir in croutons just before serving. Makes 4 main-dish or 8 side-dish servings.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Nectarines and Savory
The savory rub can also be used on grilled chicken.
If using dried savory for fresh, sprinkle the pork with 1 teaspoon dried savory and use 1/2 teaspoon for the nectarines.
• 4 firm-ripe nectarines, cut in half, pitted
• 1 (1-1/4-pound) pork tenderloin
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh savory leaves, chopped, divided
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
• 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1-1/2 tablespoons honey
• Savory sprigs
Brush nectarines and pork with olive oil (brush nectarines first, so you don't contaminate them with pork juices). Sprinkle pork with 1 tablespoon savory, the garlic, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Rub in with your fingertips. Sprinkle cut sides of nectarines with remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons savory, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
For charcoal grill, arrange medium coals on one side of grill. Place drip pan on other side of grill. Place pork on grill rack above drip pan. Cover; grill 25 to 30 minutes or until pork reaches internal temperature of 145°F. Place nectarines on grill rack above coals. Cover; grill 6 minutes, turning once, or until tender and lightly browned. (For gas grill, preheat grill. Arrange grill for indirect cooking. Cover; grill as above.) Remove pork from grill; tent with foil and let stand 3 minutes before slicing.
Thinly slice pork and arrange on platter with nectarines. Drizzle honey over pork and nectarines. Garnish with savory sprigs and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Lemon Verbena Granita with Limoncello and Vanilla Cream
Meyer lemons are tender-skinned lemons with less acid and a floral perfume. You can substitute thicker-skinned Eureka lemons in this recipe—just reduce the zest by half and cut back one tablespoon of lemon juice. Grating the zest of Meyer lemons works best with a super-sharp citrus zester.
Equal amounts of dried lemon verbena leaves can be substituted for fresh lemon verbena leaves.
• 2 cups water
• 1 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup whole fresh lemon verbena leaves
• 1 teaspoon finely shredded Meyer lemon peel
• 2/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh lemon verbena leaves
• 3/4 cup whipping cream
• 3 tablespoons limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
In medium saucepan combine water, sugar, 1/4 cup lemon verbena leaves, and lemon peel. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup comes to boil. Remove from heat; cool completely. Strain through fine mesh sieve; discard lemon verbena leaves. Stir lemon juice and minced lemon verbena into syrup. Pour the granita mixture into 2- to 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Cover; freeze 3 hours, stirring every 45 minutes or until frozen. (Granita can be made 4 days ahead.)
In small mixing bowl beat whipping cream with electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add limoncello and vanilla. Beat just until combined.
Using a fork, scrape granita into light crystals. Spoon granita into glasses and top with spoonful of cream; serve. Makes 6 servings.