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Could we be referring to lobster, no only about $12 per pound, or Kobe beef or caviar or 125 year old Balsamic vinegar? Nope, these can’t be found at your favorite CV grocery.
It’s probably something you may very well have in your pantry now…DRIED DILL WEED. And it’s more than likely nestled next to your other dried herbs and spices like crushed basil, $121 per lb, ground oregano, $198 per lb, tarragon, $241 per lb and all of Simon and Garfunkel’s favorites, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, all over $100 per lb. We priced all these common herbs or spices at one of the local big two.
Granted, they’re packaged in colorful cute little bottles, usually containing less than two ounces, but these are the per pound prices. And I am willing to wager a bunch of fresh parsley that whatever you have in your pantry lost its flavor long ago.
So what are your options for having all these terrific flavor enhancers at your immediate disposal at a sensible price? Fresh herbs at about $3 per 4 oz – 12 oz container or store brand dried herbs and spices like Delish (Vons and Ralphs) or Kroger (Ralphs) in 2 oz – 8 oz plastic containers. These are a relative bargain but they will probably get stale and lose most of their flavor before you even make a dent in the contents. On the plus side they offer a large variety so keep them in mind.
Another option is the dried spices, herbs, peppers and condiments from El Guapo available at Vons. These are never displayed in the section with the spices in the cute bottles and come in cellophane bags. These are also a bargain and something you should consider.
But the absolute best option for freshness and value is an herb garden. They are simple to put together and inexpensive and with our mild San Diego climate you can have fresh herbs and spices 365 days a year. How simple and easy? All you need is a south facing (best sun exposure) planter bed about 4 square feet that’s irrigated (or you’ll have to hand water every few days).
Get a large bag of potting soil and a little fertilizer and work it into the dirt that’s in the area you want to plant and water it well. Now for the herbs and spices…tarragon, chervil, lemon balm, oregano, several kinds of basil, sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, cilantro, chives, dill…different retailers will carry different plants so simply look around at CVS, Ace, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, Jimbo’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Armstrong nurseries or our local farmers markets. They’re usually about $2-$4 per plant and will last in the garden for months as long as they’re properly cared for. So go for it and plant what you like.
A note on rosemary, buy a small plant and give it its own special spot with some room to grow. In about six months you’ll have a bush you’ll have to keep trimming and all the fresh rosemary you could ever need. The woody stems make great kabob skewers.
There is nothing better than cutting fresh herbs from your own garden to garnish your salads and flavor your favorite dishes and sauces.
Dave Clegg is a self-taught amateur chef and recipe creator who has always been inspired by his mom’s great cooking. He has been cooking for over 40 years and has lived in Carmel Valley with his family since 1985. He created “Carmel Valley Kitchen” as a way to share his passion.
Dave was recently selected as a semifinalist in the “Next Great! News Instructor Cooking Challenge” and his basic cheese cake took third place at the 2011 San Diego County Fair. Dave has a comprehensive knowledge of ingredients, equipment and cooking techniques that he is always happy to share.