Native to the western Mediterranean, thyme is also widely cultivated. The most commonly encountered variety, Thymus vulgaris, is now found fresh on most cold produce shelves. Thyme comes in multitudes of varieties, many of which are wonderfully suited for use in the kitchen. It is a perennial, and will survive most winters, coming back year after year to beautify the garden and grace the table. It loves full sun and well drained soil. Some varieties are wonderful for framing walkways, releasing their warm, spicy fragrance when brushed, or for planting between edges of a raised bed. It is a beautiful ground cover. Thyme flowers profusely all summer and different varieties flower from white to pale pink and deep rose. Multiple varieties planted together yield a beautiful bed. Those that lend themselves more to beautifying a garden bed are Wooly Thyme; its wooly leaves, giving it a grayish green look, and Creeping Thyme, similar in its creeping habit. These two grow absolutely flat to the ground and climb up the sides of rocks.
Thymus vulgaris will grow to be about a foot tall, with upright growth habit. It has stiff and mostly straight stems, and leaves are easily stripped to add to dishes being cooked. Whole sprigs can also be dropped into a pot, and removed later, as with a bouquet garni. The leaves of the thyme plant are tiny, with varying shapes or colors, depending on the variety. Thymus vulgaris has tiny, darker green and more leathery leaves. Some types such as lemon thyme have variegated green and golden yellow leaves with a lemony scent and flavor. These are well suited to chicken or fish dishes. Broad leaf thyme, as the name implies, has wider and rounder leaves. Nutmeg thyme is variegated and has a scent of nutmeg. Mother of Thyme has a softer look and a more sprawling habit. The stems are far softer and the flowers are pink. There are so many varieties; it is hard to name them all.
In the kitchen, the rule of thumb is when in doubt, use thyme.
Thyme lends itself to most any savory dish. It is added in to soups or stews. Thyme is an herb of choice in most Italian dishes, alongside basil and oregano. It may also be used in some sweet applications, such as steeping a sprig of thyme in a simple syrup to be added to an iced tea. It can be added sparingly to a cake or cookies. Using fresh thyme from my garden I have often made a quick supper dish ever since my children were small. This dish makes a large amount, and the flavors are wonderful. It is a great way to get some vegetables into picky children. To me, the thyme is a defining flavor.
One Skillet Hamburger Meal
1 pound lean hamburger meat
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, thick grated
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 cup green beans, cut across into 1/4 inch pieces
1 can corn, drained
1 cup rice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 to 3/4 cup ketchup
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 or 2 large sprigs thyme, left whole
1 cup frozen peas
DIRECTIONS: Brown the hamburger in a very large skillet. As it nears being completely browned, add in the onion and toss well; allow to cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more. Add in the garlic, carrot, celery, green pepper, green beans and corn; toss well. Add in the rice and the Worcestershire, ketchup, bay leaves, salt and pepper and mix until all is combined. Nestle the thyme sprigs into the mixture and add water to almost cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover, maintaining a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Add in the frozen peas just as the rice is tender and cover for about 5 minutes until the peas are warmed through. Remove thyme and bay leaves and discard. Serves 6 to 8.
Other uses for thyme.
When thyme is growing in abundance, fresh bunches may be tossed onto coals on the grill for the last 5 minutes or so of grilling chicken or other meats. The green plant will smoke, giving the wonderful fragrance and flavor to the grilled meat. As a medicinal, thyme leaves can be simmered gently for 2 to 3 minutes and strained. The liquid may be consumed as a digestive tonic. With added honey it is said to be excellent for coughs. Thyme has natural antiseptic qualities and has long been an ingredient in cleaning products, mouthwashes, antiseptic creams and massage oils. Find a sunny spot in the garden to plant and enjoy.
About The Author
My name is Chris Rawstern and I have been on a cooking and baking journey for 42 years. Many people have asked what A Harmony of Flavors means. Have you ever had a meal where the visual presentation was stunning, the smells were incredible, the taste was so remarkable that you ate slowly savoring every bite, wishing the experience would never end? Then you have experienced what a truly harmonious meal can be like.
My passion is to teach people how to create a Harmony of Flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own.
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