One of my first big realizations after starting to cook Thai food at home was that I needed quick and easy access to fresh Thai herbs. Because what is chicken stir fried with holy basil (pad gaprow gai) if you don’t have holy basil? And how can you make a pot of hot and sour shrimp soup (tom yum goong) without kaffir lime leaves? So I started a small garden on my balcony, dedicated to growing Thai herbs.
Last year, I introduced you to this little garden. As you can see from the photo above, it’s small, but sufficient. Over the past year, I’ve added a few more herbs to my collection. I’ve loved watching them grow and flourish and relished being able to use these fresh herbs in my cooking. Here’s an update of how my balcony Thai herb garden is doing this year:
It’s hard to cook Thai food without Thai chilis. Fortunately, my Thai pepper plant really likes its spot on my balcony and is doing great! It never seems to stop growing taller or producing more peppers. I’ve enjoyed going outside and picking a few peppers at a time for use in green papaya salad (som tam) and various vegetable stir fries. I haven’t been able to use all of the chilis when they’re ready to be picked, but fortunately they freeze very well.
Sadly, my Thai basil plants from last year didn’t survive one of my extended vacations. I started over this Spring with some new seeds and they’re coming into their own. I’ve actually already harvested this basil a couple of times for use in a green curry with Thai eggplant and my Thai-inspired cabbage salad with peanut dressing.
The same was true for my lemon basil plants…. They just didn’t like being left without any water for weeks at a time! But they’ve started over nicely from seeds harvested from last year’s plants and are now doing well. Whenever I smell the lemony, peppery aroma of lemon basil, my mouth starts to water at the thought of fish curry with noodles (khanom jeen nam ya). So each harvest of lemon basil is used for this dish, without a moment’s hesitation.
This year, I decided to grow a few different varieties of holy basil from seed. (If you’re interested in growing your own, I wrote an article about some good online seed sources here.) It’s been fun to watch all of them grow and note their differences as they mature. They all taste distinctly like holy basil, but are also different enough that you can distinguish one from the other. I think I prefer the taste of the green holy basil plant on the right for many Thai dishes.
My friend the grasshopper, on the other hand, has a distinct taste preference for the red holy basil variety. He’s chewed through numerous leaves on this plant while leaving the other holy basil varieties completely untouched!
My little kaffir lime tree continues to do well. I love being able to walk outside and pick a few fresh leaves for use in soups like coconut milk soup (tom kha gai), green and red curries, and the boyfriend’s favorite bamboo shoot and loofah stir fries.
This year, I had the additional joy of watching several kaffir limes grow! Once they were large enough, I used the fresh kaffir lime juice to make an absolutely delicious grilled prawn salad and the peel to make a bold kaffir lime tart for dessert. And I have a few more of these limes in the freezer, just waiting to be used to make some curry pastes from scratch!
What about you? Do you grow any fresh Thai herbs or vegetables in your garden? Do you get as excited as I do by watching your lovely plants grow?