Tuesday, July 9, 2013

herbs are summer workhorses in the garden; homemade buttermilk ranch dressing

what is one of the best kept secrets of gardening?  herbs thrive in poor conditions.  they can be a bit like weeds.  just about the only thing they cannot do without is water.  most of them will even soldier on in less than full sun conditions.  the hardest part of caring for fresh herbs is to keep the annuals from setting blooms; once they flower, they go into seed production and stop producing the leafy parts we cook with.  unlike zucchini,  there is no shortage of recipes to use them in.  one of my favorite recipes is for homemade ranch dressing.  when you are trimming off the flower stalks to parsley and dill, go a little further and take enough off the plant to mix up a batch of fresh buttermilk ranch dressing.

in my herb garden, i have a combination of green onions, chives and chinese leeks.  on the left, those are green onions-scallions if you prefer.  on the right, chinese leeks which are very similar to garlic chives.  the difference is in how they produce the leaves.  chinese leeks and garlic chives look very similar to miniature leeks-the greens branch out from the top of the white part.  for chives, each one is single tube with a bulb.

parsley is a great plant in the garden.  it is a host plant for butterflies such as swallowtails.  it makes an edible border or edging plant and it will help attract beneficial insects such as minute pirate bugs and tachinid flies.

parsley is a biennial plant.  that means the first year, it will grow and produce leaves and a strong root system.  the second year, it will shift into the production of flowers and ultimately, seeds, called bolting.  because parsley will bolt, many gardeners treat it as an annual and pull it out at the end of the season. the large leaves on the left are from a plant that has not bolted while the smaller ones on the right are from a plant that has begun to bolt.  since the leaves are no longer the primary function of the plant, it is spending less energy on them and they are smaller.  even so, they both taste pretty good.

dill is an annual and cannot take any freezing.  it too will shift into seed production each year, usually when the temperatures hit the high points in mid summer.  in my garden, i remove the flower heads as they form to keep the plant producing edible foliage.  like many other plants, dill can also help attract beneficial insects to the garden so if you let some of it flower, do not despair.  those flower heads will help bring in ladybugs, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.

pick the herbs early in the day when the plants are not wilting from the sun.  wash them by letting them soak in cold water, give it a swish or two.  let them sit for a while so the soil has a chance to sink to the bottom of the bowl.  carefully lift the leaves out and dry them before using.  trial and error has led me to using my salad spinner to dry the leaves if i have a lot.  for small amounts, such as what this recipe calls for, i spread them out on a clean, dry towel and then roll it up to remove the moisture.  chopping by hand requires a little effort and a sharp knife.

buttermilk ranch dressing
yields about 1 1/2 cups

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon granulated (or powdered) garlic (dried, fresh will turn quickly in this)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, ground 
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup buttermilk

in a mixing bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lemon juice, spices and herbs to make a thick paste.  carefully whisk in the buttermilk to make a somewhat thin dressing.  chill for an hour to let the flavor develop and the dressing thicken from the fresh lemon juice.  

to make peppercorn ranch, add cracked peppercorns to your taste, a couple teaspoons should do it!

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