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Basil

Basil

Whether you use it fresh or dried, basil makes meat, pesto and Mediterranean dishes delicious and aromatic.

Nutritional Highlights

  • It takes ¼ cup of fresh chopped basil to provide a good source of vitamin A, which helps to promote healthy eyes.
  • This serving of such a versatile herb also contains 10 percent of your Daily Value of vitamin K, a nutrient that is vital for your blood's ability to clot properly.

History

While you might be familiar with basil from your favorite Italian dishes, the fragrant herb originally comes from Asia. Over the years, this leaf has become the linchpin of dishes from places like Italy, India, Indonesia, France, Thailand and Vietnam. In fact, the French love it so much that they gave it its nickname — "L'herbe royale," the herb of kings.

Varieties

Basil comes in several distinct types. The most common is sweet basil, which has a smooth, oval leaf that looks very much like fresh spinach. Another variety is Thai basil, which has a small, pointed leaf and a very different flavor, one with a strong licorice overtone. And then there's lemon basil, which tastes like, well, you know.

When is Basil in Season?

Basil peaks during the warm months of the summer, though you can often get it fresh and greenhouse-grown whenever you like.

How to Choose Basil

Good fresh basil is easy to spot. Its leaves are springy and bright green, with no insect damage or brown spots. Give basil a quick smell, too. It should have a strong, pleasant, unmistakably lemony herbal aroma.

How to Store Basil

Loosely wrap fresh basil leaves in a paper towel, and set them on the top shelf of your fridge. The vegetable crisper drawer is okay, but be aware that this area is generally too cold for the herb and will cause it to wilt faster. Refrigerated basil will usually last for about a week. You can also trim the bottoms from basil stems, place them in a glass of water (like you would a flower), and use a rubber band to seal a plastic bag over it. It'll last at least as long this way as it will refrigerated. In a pinch, you can even blend basil leaves and olive oil into a thick paste and freeze it in ice cube trays. This mixture can be thawed and used months later!

How to Cook with Basil

There are few ingredients more versatile than fresh basil. It enhances the savor of meats, the sweetness of fruit, the richness of sauces and the aromas of soups. You can add fresh basil to stews, pastas, bread loaves, salads or fish dishes to give them a richer, bolder flavor. To use fresh basil, you merely have to rinse it under cold tap water, pare away the stems and chop as needed.

key measurements

Most basil will be measured in individual leaves or tablespoons (chopped), depending on the recipe.

substitutions

For a similarly aromatic herb substitute, try using oregano or thyme in place of basil.

basil in recipes

Want to get stomachs rumbling? Stew up some Tomato-Basil Soup and casually let the aroma waft out of the kitchen.

For your next trick, whip up a Pesto-Chicken Pizza faster than it takes to get a pie by delivery.

Or if you'd rather have a spicy Asian dish, you can make Thai Chicken with Basil, mint, chilies and peanuts in just 20 minutes!

Related Recipes

Reviews & Comments

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