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7 plants to grow and spice up your home cooking

7 plants to grow and spice up your home cooking

For lovers of spicy Asian food, a stir-fry, laksas and curries will be favourites on the menu.

And certain herbs and spices are necessary ingredients for these cuisines.

Curry leaves, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, chilli, galangal, ginger and turmeric are among the essentials, with different combinations imparting a fabulous zing to fish, meat and vegetable dishes.

Add these plants to the vegie patch so you have them on hand and can enjoy them fresh and at their best.

Even if you have a courtyard or a balcony, you can still grow them, as most can be planted in containers.

Many great intense flavours come from underground from rhizomes, such as galangal, ginger and turmeric, adding spice to many dishes.

Belonging to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), they all feature elegant tropical foliage that looks great planted among ornamentals.

1. Galangal
Commonly called Thai ginger, galangal (Alpinia galanga) tastes like a cross between pepper and ginger.

A good understorey plant among other tropical foliage, it can grow up to 2m high, depending on the variety.

GROW: Choose a semi-shaded or shaded spot in rich and moist but free-draining soil. Feed in spring and summer with Yates Dynamic Lifter and water regularly. A light frost won’t kill the plant but will damage the leaves.

In spring, plant small rhizomes with at least two eyes 50-100mm deep.

HARVEST: Use about 10 months after planting. Dig carefully around the base and remove rhizomes as needed if you don’t want to disturb the clump.

USE: Flavour Asian soups and curries with fresh galangal. The young shoots are edible and the leaves impart a slight perfume when used to wrap steamed fish. Teams well with lemongrass.

2. Ginger
The pungent rhizome of ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an important spice in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. It has elegant, lance-shaped leaves and grows to about 1.2m high.

GROW: It likes a warm, frost-free climate and a semi-shaded position in rich and moist but well-drained soil.

Plant fresh store-bought rhizomes. Cut the rhizome so each piece has at least two eyes, let the ends dry, then plant. Feed in spring and summer with Yates Dynamic Lifter and water regularly.

HARVEST: Use about 9-10 months after planting. Dig up the whole clump or dig carefully around the clump and remove rhizomes when needed. Replant some rhizomes to ensure

a continuous supply.

USE: Add fresh to Asian soups, seafood and meat curries.

3. Turmeric
The name turmeric (Curcuma domestica) is thought to originate from the Latin words terra merita, meaning ‘merit of the earth’.

It’s popular for its healing properties and is delicious in curries.

With its tropical-looking foliage and white flower spikes, turmeric looks good planted with other foliage plants, in vegetable beds or large pots.

GROW: Give turmeric a lightly shaded or sunny frost-free position in moist but well-drained soil that is enriched with compost.

In spring, plant small rhizomes with at least two eyes 50-70mm deep. Feed with Yates Dynamic Lifter in late spring and summer and water regularly.

HARVEST: As the leaves start to yellow and die back in late autumn, harvest the rhizomes. Dig up the whole plant or carefully dig around the clump and remove the rhizomes as needed.

: Grate or chop fresh rhizomes and add to dishes, or dry and use with other spices for curries. Wrap fish in the leaves before barbecuing or steaming.

4. Curry leaves
A curry tree (Murraya koenigii) is a worthwhile investment for lovers of Indian food.

The leaves are an essential ingredient of dhal and impart a strong curry-like aroma.

A small tree, it grows to about 5m high but can be clipped lower. Its long, slender leaves are dark green on top and a pale green underneath.

GROW: Give a curry tree a sunny position in warm, frost-free regions. Feed in spring with a six-month controlled-release fertiliser.

It can be grown in a large pot in frosty areas and put under cover.

HARVEST: Fresh leaves are best, as they lose some flavour when dried.

USE: Curry leaves impart their best flavour if fried in oil when you begin making a curry, and add taste to many Indian dishes.

5. Lemongrass
The young white stem and leaf base of perennial lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a common ingredient in spicy Asian dishes.

If you don’t have room in the kitchen garden, it makes an attractive ornamental plant. But give it space, as it can reach a height and spread of 1.2m.

It can be grown in a large pot.

GROW: Position in a sunny spot in well-drained soil in warm, frost-free climates. Feed in spring and summer with a soluble plant food.

In cool climates, plant in large pots and protect from frost.

HARVEST: Cut the stalk at ground level from the outside of the clump at any time of the year. Cut stalks can be chopped and frozen.

USE: The soft base of the stalk is used in soups and curries. The green older leaves make a refreshing herbal tea.

6. Kaffir lime
Called the makrut lime in Thailand, the Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) is an important ingredient in South-East Asian cooking. It grows to 1.5m high, but if the leaves are constantly being picked for cooking, the plant will usually remain small.

The strong taste of the leaves is more popular than the fruit. The fruit is knobbly, and while the flesh is not eaten, the zest is used in cooking.

GROW: Give it a sunny position in well-drained soil. In spring, summer and autumn, feed with a three-month controlled-release fertiliser.

In cool climates, grow in a pot and place under cover in the sun in winter.

HARVEST: Pick leaves as needed. The leaves can also be frozen whole.

USE: Kaffir lime leaves are used in green curries, fish and chicken dishes, laksa and soups.

7. Chilli
The chilli (Capsicum annuum), an essential ingredient in many dishes, has been a popular spice for centuries.

The fruit follows star-shaped white flowers and comes in many different shapes and sizes. Depending on the variety, chillies ripen from green to shades of red, orange, yellow, brown or purple. They look great in pots.

GROW Give chillies a sunny spot in rich, well-drained soil. Sow seeds or plant seedlings in spring and feed when flowers appear with Yates Dynamic Lifter Plus Fruit Food.

Water regularly.

HARVEST: Pick chillies fresh, dry the excess or freeze them whole for later.

Always wear gloves or scrub your hands thoroughly after handling chillies, as they can burn your skin. Also avoid rubbing your eyes or any other sensitive areas.

USE: Add zing to scrambled eggs and omelettes with a sprinkling of fresh chilli. Use in Asian dishes, stir-fries, laksa and Indian dishes. 

Written by Handyman Magazine. Republished with permission of Handyman.