Along with traditional Asian medicines and Asian food, Asian herbs have found a home in the West. These tasty condiments can now be found not only in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, but on tables and home gardens. They not only add an intriguing flavor and zest to meals, but many of them provide health benefits as well. In addition, they are quite easy to cultivate in your home garden, ensuring a constant fresh supply to add that little touch of Asia to your cuisine.
Following are some of the best Asian herbs for cooking.
Cilantro. Also known as coriander or parsley, this light green herb is a mainstay in many Southeast Asian dishes, in particular Thai food. It adds a nice touch to soups and salads, like Tom Yam Gung (shrimp soup). Cilantro is reported to aid in digestion and helps to settle upset stomachs. In Thailand and Vietnam, soups with cilantro garnish are commonly used to ease the effects of a night’s drinking. While it will not completely cure a hangover, it does mitigate some of the stomach wrenching effects, such as nausea. It also relieves intestinal gas and helps prevent flatulence. Cilantro is easy to grow in the home herb garden. Cultivated from seeds that can be purchased at many garden shops, it grows best in moist soil, and can be grown on a window sill.
Basil. Basil is an herb that goes extremely will with soups, salads and meat like chicken, beef and pork. It also makes an excellent garnish for fish dishes. This herb is popular in both Southeast and East Asian cooking. The Chinese claim that basil has anti-bacterial qualities, which might or might not be true, but it certainly adds a fresh flavor to meat dishes. Basil can be grown from either seeds or cuttings in soil, or in a home hydroponic garden. It grows best in an area that gets around 6 – 8 hours of sunlight per day.
Chives. Related to onions and garlic, and with a distinct garlic flavor, chives can be used in any dish in lieu of onions or garlic. Mixed with sour cream, they add a zesty flavor to baked potatoes, and are great in fresh garden salads. Chives also make great pizza toppings. They are a good source of vitamins C and A. Grown from seeds, the plants can be separated when they sprout to create more plants. They grow best in slightly moist soil. The leaves should be harvested when they are tender for best results in your cooking and maximum flavor.
Dill. Dill, as the name suggests, tastes like dill pickles. It can be added to salads for a tangy flavor, and also goes well in light soups. It is a great garnish for any kind of fish dish. Dill helps ease the discomfort of indigestion. Dill is grown from seeds in moist soil.
Lemongrass. This herb is a mainstay in Southeast Asia dishes. In addition to use in soups and salads, it is used to marinate meats, not only tenderizing them, but infusing a tangy, sweet flavor. A versatile plant, both stalks and bulbs can be used. Lemongrass is an aid to digestion and helps to relieve tension. Demonstrating its great versatility, it can also be used as a pleasant smelling bug repellent, either rubbed into the skin, or mixed with alcohol and burned. Lemongrass bulbs can be planted in moist soil and should be placed where they can get plenty of sunlight. To speed the growth process, soak the bulbs in water before planting.
Peppermint. While you might think of peppermint as a flavor for candy rather than cooking, it is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes, such as salads and spring rolls. The fresh, minty flavor is what makes Vietnamese spring rolls such a favorite with diners in Vietnamese restaurants. Peppermint, however, is not just a great flavor additive to foods. It is an excellent treatment for stomach aches and helps to relax muscles. This is also an easy plant to grow in your home garden. It can be cultivated from cuttings planted in either moist soil or a hydroponic garden. For more tender leaves its best to grow peppermint from seeds in soil.