Growing up, my grandfather had a tomato and spice garden that he would tend to religiously. My grandmother often prepared traditional Cuban meals every night with his hand-grown spices, and dinner was always very flavorful. My grandfather was proud of his garden; unfortunately, he never passed down his green thumb to me.
I can do many things, but gardening is not one of them! Recently, though, I’ve begun to appreciate the appeal of growing my own herbs and cooking more with my boys.
When my aunt was in town from Miami, I took the opportunity to plant a Latin spice garden with the help of her expert green thumb. I was delighted that my older son (pictured above) was especially excited about helping out with the entire process. It’s really reassuring that both my boys show an interest in harvesting homegrown fresh flavors and learning more about the key ingredients that make up Latin meals.
This little gardening project has definitely taught me to introduce my boys to different activities, as they may just surprise me and really become invested in the work, the outcome, and the experience itself.
Our new herb garden:
Now, on to the actual herbs…
Although I had a seasoned pro helping me out, it was pretty fun going to a local market to select the herbs. Under my aunt’s guidance, we planted both seeds and seedlings (a.k.a. starter plants). Being a complete novice, I didn’t know we needed to gate our work—we don’t have pets, but we do have two bunnies and loads of squirrels that live in our backyard. So I let my aunt do her thing when it came down to fencing and protecting the herbs. She’s so skillful.
It was fun getting “schooled” on herbs. I learned that planting herbs helps keep pests at bay, and that herb gardening is easiest for newbies like me.
We began by separating our herb gardens throughout the backyard. Hopefully, I can transition some of the herbs indoors when the weather gets cold.
My kids and I are already enjoying the delicious aromas the herbs are lending to our backyard.
Under my aunt’s guidance and assistance, we planted all the herbs. I felt so accomplished! She helped me select these eight, as they are essential to many Hispanic dishes:
I love saffron…I love the flavor and aroma it gives eggs, stew, rice, and quinoa. I also love it when we have paella at our favorite tapas restaurant.
Another common spice originating in Spain, paprika accents many Cuban meals and is often liberally used in place of pepper. Since we focus on Caribbean dishes in our home, we went with the Dulce (mild) paprika, as we don’t eat spicy.
I like to use parsley when we make a popular pasta dish, but parsley also is an essential spice for Spanish cooking and for topping a steak. This herb can be used to flavor a wide variety of dishes, is rich in vitamin C, and has carcinogen-neutralizing capabilities.
Cilantro has to be one of my favorite things on the planet. I love the taste and the aroma so much I’ve started putting it in smoothies as well. Often used for making soffrito, stews, and meat dishes, there’s nothing more refreshing than a little cilantro.
I love tomato-rich dishes, and basil is great to use with zesty, tomato-y dishes (as I like to refer to them!). Note: Basil plants prefer warm, sunny areas with ample drainage, and you need to remove any flowers that appear. In addition, basil is a great source of vitamin A, and can act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
We planted rosemary from small rosemary cuttings, as rosemary seeds take a long time to sprout. Rosemary is a delicious herb often used to add flavor to many meats.
Thyme is a great source of iron and is a staple ingredient in Caribbean cuisines. Like rosemary, thyme is best grown transplanted from seedlings and loves sunny areas. Also, because it’s a perennial, it will return every year!
Oregano is easy to grow from the seed and is ready for harvest when flowers appear. I love adding oregano to sandwiches and was happy to learn it is also an effective, natural anti-bacterial.
What herbs will you plant this year?