Basil is a kind of herb that belongs to the ‘mint family’. Basil is a very tender plant that grows on low-height. The taste of the plant is similar to anise and also has a very strong smell. The plant usually has green color. The term ‘basil’ is derived from the Greek language where it means ‘king’ and it is still considered as the royal herb for many culinary experts. Basil recipes are quite popular in international cuisines due to pungent and sweet smell of basil. Some of the popular basil dishes are basil chicken, basil tea and basil dip.
History of Basil
According to historians, basil was first seen at the place where Holy Cross was found by Helen and St. Constantine. Some early evidences show that basil is a native to India, Iran and few Asian tropical regions. It has been cultivated in these places for more than 5000 years. Indian religious ceremonies are incomplete without basil leaves as it is believed to be associated with Lord Vishnu and popularly known as ‘tulsi’. Asians spread the popularity of basil by transporting its seeds to Egypt where it has been used as an herb for preservation of mummies. Basil also has special significance in Greek culture as it is used in making holy water on the traditional and religious occasions. Americans came to know about this flavorful herb through the colonies of Massachusetts Bay. Since then basil has been used as an aromatic herb in various flavored foods in western cuisine.
Culinary Use of Basil
Basil is primarily used for its aroma in several recipes. Basil dishes are considered highly flavored due to the influence of the strong smell of basil leaves. It is used mostly in fresh form to retain its aroma. Basil is added to the basil dishes just before serving so that it pungent smell remains intact. Overcooking may destroy the flavor of the herb. Dried basil is also a very common ingredient in basil recipes but it has very little flavor of the herb and most of the time it tastes like hay. Various kinds of sauces are flavored with the use of basil. Fresh and even dried basil are added to soups and other flavored foods desserts and chocolates. Some of the other additions in the list of basil recipes are fresh fruit salads or fruit jams. Basil gives a nice flavor when mixed with fruits, especially the Vietnamese basil tastes best with fruits due to its different flavors. Savory dishes such as chicken and vegetable dishes, and salads are also commonly flavored with basil. Basil seeds are also of greater use. With varied names such as ‘sabza’, ‘takmaria’ or ‘selasih’, basil seeds have varied uses in drinks and sweet dishes. Most popular basil dishes made with seeds are ‘falooda’ and ‘sherbet’. Apart from culinary uses, basil leaves and seeds are widely used in folk medicines due to their healing powers. The Indian medicine system ‘Ayurveda’ is popular for making extensive use of basil.
Popular Basil Recipes
• Pesto – It is one of the most popular basil recipes from Italian cuisine. It is a kind of sauce that is flavored with basil and olive oil along with pine nuts.
• Basil tea- Basil provides a strong flavor to the tea and it is believed to have some medicinal properties also.
• Tomato basil soup – This is a highly flavored soup and one of the popularly served basil dishes across the world. • Fried chicken with basil – In Thai cuisine this is the most popular basil recipe.
• Basil pasta salad – Pasta and basil is an unusual combination but this basil dish tastes very good.
Cuisines Commonly Making Basil Dishes
Basil is a kind of herb that highly dominates the Italian cuisine. Basil recipes are quite famous in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thai cuisine. Cuisines of Taiwan and Cambodia also make good use of basil. The basil dishes made in Italian cuisine commonly use ‘sweet basil’ whereas Asian cuisine mostly uses lemon basil or Thai basil. Holy basil is the variety of basil plant commonly known as ‘tulsi’ and it has varied uses in Indian cuisine as well as Nepalese and Chinese cuisines. Chinese people fondly add basil to various soups and savory dishes. Italian pasta dishes and also the famous ‘pesto’ sauce are flavored with basil. ‘Basil tea’ and basil drinks are also famous in these cuisines for treating nausea like conditions. Basil recipes are very few in western cuisine but still basil is often used to make flavored desserts and other food items.
Preferred Methods of Making Basil Dishes
• Boiled – Basil leaves are usually boiled to make basil tea and other drinks.
• Mixed – Dried or fresh basil is mixed with various fruits and vegetables to make salad and other side dishes.
• Blended – Basil leaves are often blended to make milk shakes and ice creams.
Nutritive Value of Basil
Generally, basil and other herbs are consumed but their nutritive value makes them well-liked in all kinds of foods. Basil is a natural tranquilizer and it is believed to be a tonic to calm the nervous system. Basil dishes are good for digestive system and basil also helps in relieving stomach cramps. Basil tea relives nausea. Various essential oils are also obtained from basil that have several health benefits. It is a very popular antioxidant that has anticancer properties. Even diseases like asthma and diabetes can also be cured with the regular consumption of basil and basil dishes. Basil leaves are also considered as a blood purifier.
Buying and Storing of Basil
It is always better to buy fresh basil in order to get its actual flavor. Dried basil is also a nice ingredient but has little aroma than fresh variety. Fresh basil can easily be bought from any grocery store or it can be home-grown also. Home-grown basil should be picked carefully. Stems and dried leaves should be avoided. Preservation of basil is quite easy. Fresh basil can be kept in a plastic bag and stored in refrigerator for 2-3 days. It can even be freeze to use in basil recipes in future. Basil cubes can be made by filling the ice tray and adding basil leaves to it. Freeze the ice tray and use the cubes in basil dishes as and when required. This way of preserving basil allows the herb to retain its natural flavor and health benefits.
Types of Basil
• Sweet basil – This variety is commonly used in Italian cuisine.
• Lemon basil – This type of basil is mostly grown in northeastern Africa and Asia. It popularly used in Thai basil recipes.
• Thai basil – This basil has an assertive mint taste and has purple stems.
• Holy basil or tulsi – Holy basil is normally grown in India and Nepal. It is fondly used in Chinese cuisine as well.
• According to Romanian tradition, boy and girl are believed to be engaged if girl gives a basil leaf to the boy.
• Basil is a ‘symbol of love’ in Italian culture.