In the Garden
Oregano grows to a height of 18 inches, with clusters of tiny white to purple-pink flowers in late summer to fall. Its leaves are dark green, slightly hairy, and aromatic.
It can be grown from seeds if sown in late spring when the danger of frost has passed. Set transplants 10 inches apart in the well-drained dry soil in full sun or closer together for use as edging plants.
Watering is critical while the seeds emerge and when the seedlings are young. As plants mature, gradually taper off the water until the soil is dry more often than it is moist. In summer, divide established clumps and replant. Trim the plants after they flower to prevent them from becoming leggy.
Oregano is a perennial, hardy to Zone 4. In winter, cut back plants to within 2 inches of the soil.
Oregano is a pungent herb often used in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooking, usually as a dried seasoning. Its flavor and aroma are similar to those of marjoram but stronger. Use with pizza, chili, cabbage, green beans, pasta, meats, sausages, fish, stuffings, egg dishes, cheeses, and vegetables. Use it fresh in salads and also to flavor oils and vinegar.
In the Garden
Parsley is a vigorous grower, reaching 12 to 30 inches high. The two common varieties are the curly-leaf and the flat-leaf, or Italian.
It can be a slow germination, so soak the seeds in water for an hour or two before you saw them. A member of the carrot family, tap-rooted parsley does best in well-dug, moderately rich soil. In early spring, either sow the seeds V^-inch deep in the garden or start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the frost-free date.
When transplanting, use care to disturb the roots as little as possible. Space plants about 10 inches apart in full sun to partial shade and water well. Once your plants are established and form good-sized clumps, begin harvesting leaves as needed for the kitchen, cutting the outer stems first. Parsley is a biennial, hardy to Zone 5. However, it is usually grown as an annual.
Despite its mild taste, parsley packs a nutritional wallop, loaded with vitamin C, iron, calcium, and beta-carotene. It is fundamental in bouquets garnish and helps to harmonize the flavors of accompanying ingredients. The curly and flat-leaf varieties are equally valuable in the kitchen; some cooks prefer the slightly sweeter taste of the flat- leaf.
Parsley is essential to many cuisines and is added in quantity to a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and vegetables. The Japanese fry parsley in tempura batter; the French make a persillade of garlic and parsley finish sauces and grilled meats; and the Mexicans use parsley in salsa verde.
For the best flavor, add parsley to dishes toward the end of the cooking time. It is best fresh or frozen rather than dried.
In the Garden
Cilantro grows 6 to 30 inches tall. The leaf is broad and finely scalloped early in the season and more finely cut and threadlike when it starts to flower. The white to pinkish flowers are carried in umbels above the plant during early to midsummer, followed by clusters of golden-brown seeds (coriander). Slow-bolting varieties of this cool-season plant are available.
A short-lived annual, cilantro is difficult to transplant; it is best to sow it 1/2-inch deep in spring or fall and then thin to about 8 inches apart. Plant in full sun to partial shade in moderately rich, well-drained soil. Don’t overfertilize. Frequent cuttings of the leaves will extend the harvest, but eventually the plants will form flower heads. Harvest coriander seeds when they turn brown.
Some people dislike cilantro’s pungent scent and find it soapy-tasting, but –others are passionate about the bold, tangy flavor, which is sagelike with citrus overtones. Use the fresh leaves in salsas, salads, soups, and sauces.
The whole or ground seeds, which have a more citrusy taste, are used in baked goods and beverages and with sausages, vegetables, and curries.
Sally’s Sweet Bulgur Salad
Everyone at the Almanac loves this dish.
1 cup cracked bulgur (available at natural food stores)
3/4 cup chopped dried cherries or cranberries
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup chopped fresh chives (or scallions, both green and white parts)
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 generous teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
For the salad: Put the bulgur into a large bowl and just cover it with boiling water. Set aside for 2 hours, then drain well and pat dry, if necessary. Mix in all of the chopped ingredients.
For dressing: In a separate bowl or jar, combine the lemon juice and sugar. Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly mix in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad before serving. Makes about 8 servings.