A Little Background
I had recently called my paternal grandmother on her birthday and ended up taking for almost two hours. She lives in Seattle, Washington and I’m in St Paul, Minnesota so we don’t get to spend much time with each other. She recently turned 71 years old and I was just asking things about her and her life. My paternal grandmother has been a farmer all of her life. She was a farmer where she was born and raised in Laos and when she came to the U.S., she continued to be a farmer and that was her way of living, raising her children, and support several children off to college.
My maternal grandmother also had a green thumb and did some farming here and there but for the most part she was a gardener. I was much closer to my maternal grandmother as she lived closer to me and I practically spent my childhood at her house. She would tend to her garden everyday, regardless if she had to babysit a grandchild, she would hoist that grandchild onto her back with a traditional Hmong baby carrier.
As I’ve gotten older I’m continuing to have the need to have a green thumb as well. Finding myself going to the asian grocery stores just to purchase herbs and running into issues of my herbs dying faster than me eating them. So I’ve been dabbling on growing my own herbs wishing I would’ve shown interest earlier when my maternal grandmother was still alive. So the subject of growing herbs was on my mind when I was talking to my paternal grandmother on her birthday.
It’s amazing the wealth of information that she has about farming. She has grown everything from a variety of herbs, fruits, and flowers and these are the only things that I’m aware of as I have memories of her bringing luggages full of fruits and vegetables for whenever she came to visit us in Minnesota. Not to mention she used to grow and sell flowers at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington.
So we were on the subject of growing herbs such as cilantro, green onion, mint, Thai basil, and lemon grass as they are essential in Southeast Asian cuisine. I could tell the difference of our perspectives in growing herbs, hers is the ideal way of growing them in outdoors in the garden, whereas, my perspective is growing indoors in a planter or in a mason jar. I might just have to turn my front lawn into a mini garden because I’m having little success growing them indoors.
Herbs are almost always served fresh in all of Southeast Asian cuisine.
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Cilantros are tasty, aromatic, and are used as more than just garnishment to many Southeast Asian dishes. Cilantros are a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine as it provides a powerful fresh taste to any meal. I have cilantros all the time in my fridge or often find myself purchasing cilantros from the local asian grocery stores or if you don’t have any near you Amazon always seems to have everything.
My grandmother and I were on the subject of growing cilantros for a while as I was asking her simple questions like the following:
Q: How do I harvest them? Do I cut them all at the base and then they’ll grow right back?
A: No. Don’t cut them at the base, most definitely won’t grow back. With cilantros, you have to cut the stem that’s attached to the leaf and by doing this way the cilantro will grow back bushier as well
When I first started growing cilantros on the side of my driveway many years ago, to my surprise, I didn’t know that when cilantros hit its maturity that it starts to bloom with little white flowers at the top of the stem. I later learned that within the little white flowers are seeds to grow cilantro again. So I asked my grandmother the following question:
Q: When can I harvest the seeds? So I harvest them when the little white flowers start to bloom?
A: No, you pick the seeds of the stem when it has died and dried off.
My grandmother continued to tell me to grow Hmong cilantros, usually these cilantros will still have roots attached to it, which I can regrow and collect the seeds when it matures. Apparently, according to my grandmother, Hmong cilantros are a lot more flavorful, aromatic, and bushier. Turns out, these Hmong cilantros are from the seeds that Hmong people brought with them from Laos. Going to ask my grandmother before spring to see if she can send me some of her seeds for me to plant in my yard. Plus, it has a nice ring to it “my grandmother’s cilantros.”
I also asked her if she would freeze the cilantros after harvesting them, and of course, she does.
Some call it scallions, but I call it green onions. Green onions are also an essential herb when it comes to Southeast Asian cuisine. Used more than just a garnishment and more for its slight onion fresh taste to any dish. I, too, find myself purchasing this herb along with cilantros when running to local asian grocery stores.
I’ve dabbled over the years of growing green onions and always found them to grow best in summer outdoors. Once grew green onions on the side of my driveway, hardly tended to it, and they grew so fast and tall. At that time I was just experimenting and didn’t realize that green onions also bloom at this maturity. Grew so many green onions in abundance that my husband and I gave bunches away to our neighbor.
What I also learned about green onions was that I could regrow, or up-cycle, my green onions purchased from the store. I just have leave about 2-3 inches from the ends, submerge the roots vertically in water and before you know it, the green onions will start to grow. Eventually my green onions grew so tall that I had transplanted to a mason jar as a planter.
Cilantros and Green Onions go hand in hand. The following are recipes that include cilantro and green onion as an ingredient:
Mint is has a strong smell and taste to any Southeast Asian dish. It’s most often used in as a garnishment in dishes like Pho, Kao Poon, and Laab. It goes hand in hand and complements with cilantro and green onion.
Mint is another herb that I plan on growing as local asian grocery stores usually sell them in large bunches. It usually goes bad before I get the chance to use them all, so planting them is in the hemisphere.
My husband and I love eating Thai basil. Thai basils are not like other typical basils that are used in basil pesto or on Margherita pizzas. Thai basils are different in its own right, asian grocery stores usually sell them with stems attached, whereas, other basils are sold with only its leaves and no stem in clear plastic containers. Another difference is that Thai basils have stems that are purple in color and has a very distinct and strong basil aroma.
Thai basils are great with stir fries. Most definitely when eating at a Thai restaurant, the menu will always have some sort of a basil stir fry dish. My husband always orders a basil stir fry dish when he has the chance and always asks for extra Thai basil to be cooked in it.
Most importantly, when it comes to noodle soups like Pho, Kao Poon, Kao Piak – Thai basil is a must need ingredient.
There you have it, the four main herb ingredients to any Southeast Asian dish. Be sure to like and follow this blog along with following my social media for more updates.