Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Even though basil is mostly associated with the Mediterranean cuisine, this herb is also prevalent in many Southeast Asian dishes. It matches quite well with Mediterranean flavours and foods such as garlic, tomatoes, olives, saffron, and grilled bell peppers. Grounded with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese it becomes pesto or the French ‘pistou’. Basil can be added last-minute to sauces, vegetable soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Among numerous varieties the most common ones are:
- Sweet basil – with long and large green leaves but when crushed one can detect cinnamon and anise notes, especially anise.
- Greek basil – smaller leaves and more peppery taste
- Purple basil – these darker leaves have a milder flavour
- Lemon basil – smaller leaves with a citrus note
- Thai basil – similar to sweet basil but has a pungent licorice note
- Holy basil – more intense and spicy. Best cooked than raw. Holy basil is sacred to the Hindus and is often planted around their temples.
Basil grows all year round, but it grows better during the hot summer months. Even during the long winter months, you can enjoy fresh basil if you keep a small plant inside. Potted basil plants must be kept in a sunny and sheltered place (a sunny windowsill) and watered regularly but not in excess. Ensure the soil is moist but avoid leaving water on the container’s dish. Picking stimulates new growth but you should not harvest more than ⅓ of the plant at a time if you want it to keep producing. Basil flowers are also edible and delicious.
How to store basil
Fresh basil and refrigeration are not best friends. Cold temperatures cause basil leaves to turn brown and unappetizing. Your best bet is to keep the cut ends of basil stems in a jar with water on the kitchen counter. Another option is to wrap the basil in a damp paper towel and keep it into an open/unsealed bag in the refrigerator .
Do not wash basil until before you need to use it as this can decrease shelf life by half .
To make your own dried basil, hang basil stems upside down or pinch off leaves and place them loosely in a brown paper bag for a few days (about 4 days) or until the leaves are dried. Keep it in a well-ventilated area. I use this same method to dry most herbs. Store dried basil in an airtight container for up to 4 months.
To freeze fresh basil leaves, chop the basil leaves and add small amounts of the chopped basil at a time into an ice-cube tray. The best way to chop basil is referred to as chiffonade. Fill each cube with extra virgin olive oil and take the tray to the freezer. Pop out cubes as needed or store the frozen cubes into a freezer bag.
How to chiffonade basil:
Chiffonade or simply cutting fresh herbs, especially basil into this slivers is a traditional French technique and it means “made of rags”. All you need to do is to stack fresh basil leaves, roll them into a cigar shape and slice the roll into narrow ribbons using a sharp knife to avoid crushing and bruising the delicate basil leaves [1,3].
- Crosb, G. (2012). The Science of Good Cooking. America’s Test Kitchen.
- Canadian Nutrient File. Fresh Basil.
- Eating Well. (2016). Vegetables, The Essential Reference.