For easy meals, plant favourite ‘menu gar­dens’

Meal prep will be sim­pler, cheaper and health­ier

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - DEAN FOSDICK

If you’re look­ing for fresh meal ideas, con­sider plant­ing “menu gar­dens.”

Grow a few of your favourite foods to­gether in pots or raised beds, fol­low­ing a theme — sal­ad­bar fix­ings, for ex­am­ple, or pizza top­pings, or juicing in­gre­di­ents.

Meal prepa­ra­tion will be sim­pler, cheaper and health­ier.

“Even if you have land to grow a large gar­den, one ad­van­tage of grow­ing a few ed­i­ble plants in a small space or con­tainer close to the kitchen is that it makes it eas­ier to pull to­gether a fresh recipe,” said Pa­trice Pow­ers-Barker, an ex­ten­sion ed­u­ca­tor with Ohio State Univer­sity.

“The en­tire fam­ily meal doesn’t have to be cre­ated from scratch,” she said.

“Make some of your eas­i­est go-to recipes and then dress them up with fresh herbs on top, or add fresh sea­sonal veg­eta­bles to your tra­di­tional side salad.”

Be cre­ative. Add, sub­tract or sub­sti­tute the ed­i­bles you grow in much the same way you mod­ify food recipes.

Some spe­cialty gar­dens that can spice up fam­ily meal plan­ning:

Salad bar gar­den

Com­bine leaf let­tuce, sprouts, kale, arugula, ro­maine, baby car­rots, cucumbers, spinach and pars­ley in a sin­gle gar­den plot. Or go Asian and plant bok choy, red mus­tard, co­rian­der, radish and Thai basil.

Pesto gar­den

“Even though basil is prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar leaf to add to pesto, it can be made with all dif­fer­ent kinds of plants: pars­ley, mus­tard greens, toma­toes,” Pow­ers-Barker said. Don’t for­get the gar­lic.

Pizza gar­den

Group cherry toma­toes with onions, oregano, basil, bell pep­pers, fen­nel and pars­ley. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less.

Taco gar­den

Plant some toma­toes in a large pot with cilantro, jalapeno and let­tuce.

Juicing gar­den

Car­rots, cab­bage, wa­ter­cress, Swiss chard, cucumbers, sweet po­tato, cel­ery, zuc­chini and mint. Use the mint for gar­nish.

Pick­ling gar­den

Cucumbers, mus­tard, cab­bage, beets and dill.

Stir fry gar­den

Snow peas, Chi­nese mus­tard, green onions, bok choy, baby car­rots, zuc­chini, yel­low squash, broc­coli.

Three sis­ters gar­den

A tra­di­tional Na­tive Amer­i­can group­ing of corn, beans and squash. They com­ple­ment one an­other nu­tri­tion­ally as well as when grown to­gether on the same hill.

Culi­nary herb gar­den

Dill, thyme, fen­nel, tar­ragon, oregano, mint, pars­ley, sage, basil and rose­mary.

Tea gar­den

Mint, pas­sion­flower, rose hips, camomile, echi­nacea, laven­der and basil among a great many oth­ers.

Hal­loween gar­den

Pumpkins, squash and corn. Want more? “How about a Just Jam­min’ gar­den with straw­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries?” said Dixie Sand­born, an ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ist with Michi­gan State Univer­sity.

That would be a more per­ma­nent gar­den.

Or, she added, “maybe a kalei­do­scope gar­den us­ing veg­eta­bles with un­usual colours?

Car­rots, egg­plant of sev­eral colours, toma­toes — red, yel­low and orange striped.

“’One po­tato, two po­tato’ or some other catchy name for a po­tato gar­den fea­tur­ing sev­eral va­ri­eties of potatoes grown above ground in wire or bar­rels,” she said.

Menu gar­dens can be fun for fam­i­lies with kids, said Pow­er­sBarker. But their ap­peal is broader than that: “As older adults tran­si­tion from serv­ing many peo­ple to mak­ing recipes for one or two, a small gar­den can be a nice way to pre­pare meals in smaller batches.”

DEAN FOSDICK PHO­TOS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Menu plan­ning can be eas­ier if it starts in the gar­den. Group your plants ac­cord­ing to how they fit in a menu. Pumpkins and squash can be grown to­gether in Hal­loween gar­dens; group­ing makes it eas­ier to gather them for dis­play or the ta­ble.

A three sis­ters gar­den is a tra­di­tional group­ing of corn, squash and beans that thrive when planted to­gether. The corn sup­ports the bean vines as they grow, the beans pull ni­tro­gen into the soil and the squash shades the soil and smoth­ers weeds.

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