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Basil: a gourmet cook's delight

Updated on June 5, 2014

On my back porch, are 8 huge pots and 5 window boxes which hang over the railing. Although they contain some Geraniums and Petunias, they are mostly filled with herbs: Basil, Dill, Thyme, Tarragon, Rosemary and mint. And, if you look a little closer, you'll see chives, oregano, parsley and sage.

There are three kinds of sage, two kinds of Thyme and four kinds of mint. Herbs make food taste better; they make it more flavorful and healthful. I don't know if my penchant for herbs come from the fact that my great, great grandmother, a Cherokee Indian, was an herb doctor, or because I have a well developed palate.

Gardening satisfies some of our most basic needs. Working with growing things in the sunshine and fresh air some how lifts the spirit. If you've never tried it, you should. You can have a garden anywhere, and it hardly takes up any room. It is fragrant and provides you with all sorts of wonderful flavors for your favorite dishes.

Eggs, for instance, take on a special gourmet taste when Dill, Basil, Chives, or Thyme is added. Of course tomato sauces love Basil or Oregano, and fish is definitely enhanced with Dill. And if you haven't tried little red potatoes baked in butter and rosemary, you're really missing something.

One of the most common and popular herbs is Basil. It's easy to grow and can be found in many popular dishes, including pizza and spaghetti sauce.

Most common types of Basil

Thai Basil has a bright citrus, mint, and grassy flavor. Good for use in baking and flavoring vinegars and oils. Used in Asian cooking
Thai Basil has a bright citrus, mint, and grassy flavor. Good for use in baking and flavoring vinegars and oils. Used in Asian cooking
Cinnamon Basil has a flowery, spicy, and pungent flavor. Ideal for baking and flavoring Mediterranean and middle eastern dishes.
Cinnamon Basil has a flowery, spicy, and pungent flavor. Ideal for baking and flavoring Mediterranean and middle eastern dishes.
Lemon Basil has a citrus scent and flavor. It's pungent and strong is perfect for pairing with fish, seafood, and poultry.
Lemon Basil has a citrus scent and flavor. It's pungent and strong is perfect for pairing with fish, seafood, and poultry.
Dark Opal Basil has a deep, dusky flavor and aroma. Works well in salads and stir fry.
Dark Opal Basil has a deep, dusky flavor and aroma. Works well in salads and stir fry.
Sweet Basil is used for making dried Basil.Has a licorise and strong herbal flavor. Preferred for us inItalian dishes; such as, pesto, pizza, and tomato sauces.
Sweet Basil is used for making dried Basil.Has a licorise and strong herbal flavor. Preferred for us inItalian dishes; such as, pesto, pizza, and tomato sauces.


Basil
Basil is an annual herb that grows in the warm spring and summer months and is always available fresh during those months. There are nearly sixty varieties of Basil. The most commonly available types include: Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Basil, Thai Basil, Opal Basil, and Sweet Basil.

Most people love Basil. It seems to be everyone's favorite herb and the recipes are endless that take advantage of this fresh and spicy leaf. If you can only grow two plants it should be a pot of tomatoes and a pot of basil. With these two plants and a few basic pantry items you can treat yourself wonderful gourmet dishes.

Basil is an annual, and is easily grown from seed. There are over two dozen types of basil including lettuce-leaf which has large leaves, cinnamon basil and the purple leafed varieties. Basil is not frost tolerant at all, so be sure to only plant after the soil has warmed completely. Though it needs full sun, it does need more moisture than some herbs, so keep it watered; especially in pots.

You can bring basil inside as a window herb if you plant the seeds during the warm weather in pots and bring inside to grow in a bright and sunny window. Basil can be frozen, dried, or preserved in oil. It's delicious however you choose to preserve it. Basil is also available year round in most produce sections. Add leaves to salad or sandwiches with your lettuce, saute at the last minute with almost any vegetable and add to soups. It is also wonderful in herbal vinegars mixed with oregano and thyme. The following recipes are just a few of the many you are sure to run across!

Recipes

Burmese Coconut Chicken with Thai and Opal Basils
(makes 4 servings)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 chicken thighs
4 chicken legs
2 large onions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ground caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cans (14 oz each) cocnut milk
2 cups coarsely chopped Thai Basil leaves
2 cups coarsely chopped Opal Basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a large skillet, heat peanut oil,
over moderate heat. Add chicken in
batches and brown on all sides.
Remove and place in large baking
dish. Cook onions, garlic.peppers,
caraway, and cinnamon is same skillet,
5 minutes over high heat.
Stir constantly. Remove from
heat and add chicken. Pour
coconut milk into skillet and stir,
scraping bottom of pan to remove
brown particles. Add to onions and
chicken and mix well. Bake uncovered
for 1 1/2 hours.Remove from oven.
Add Basil and mix gently.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Baked Whole Snapper stuffed with cinnamon basil and onions
1 large onion, cut into 1'2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
4 cups fresh cinnamon Basil
salt and pepper to taste
4 lb whole red snapper, cleaned, head on
1 lemon thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

I large pan,Saute onions
and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes
Add oregano and basil and
cook for 30 seconds. Season
with salt and pepper. Stuff
inside of snapper with onion-basil
mix. Place lemon slices on top
of stuffing and press firmly
to secure ingredients inside fish.
Place in lightly greased roasting
pan and bake uncovered 1o minutes.
Remove from oven.Cover with foil.
Bake for an additional 25 to 30
minutes, just until fish is opaque
in the center and tender throughout.
Cut into individual portions, and
serve along with onion-Basil stuffing.

Lemon Basil Grilled Chicken

1/2 c. oil
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried basil

In small bowl combine oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and basil (1 cup marinade). Marinate chicken either 30-45 minutes or overnight. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Grill or broil chicken until lightly browned.

Summer figs and berries with honey-Basil cream

Honey Basil cream

1 pint heavy cream

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup finely chopped fresh sweet basil leaves

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place cream, water and honey in a large, heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir frequently to prevent from boiling over. Add basil and reduce heat to moderate. Cook for 20 minutes, or until cream is thick and pale brown. Add vanilla and mix well. Strain through a fine wire sieve and transfer to a small sauce pan. Keep warm over low heat, until ready to use.

Figs and berries

1 pint Black Missions figs, trimmed and quartered

1/2 pint strawberries

1/2 pint raspberries

1/2 pint blackberries

Combine figs and berries in a large bowl., mix gently. Arrange in serving dishes and drizzle with warm Honey-Basil cream. Garnish with sprigs of fresh sweet Basil.


Comments

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    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the comment. Let me know when you try the recipe and how it turns out.

    • profile image

      dennisematt 

      9 years ago

      awwwww im drooling now. I planted thai basil for the first time this year...and can not WAIT 'till it grows. i am toatally going to try that recipie. thanks. :)

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      The sweet basil is the most common; that's what they use in Spaghetti sauce and pizza. The fresh leaves are so much better than the dried. Thanks for stopping by.

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 

      9 years ago from ma

      Thanks for the recipes. The dark opal basil looks good I have never seen that kind before. I always bought those little basil plants at the grocery store and they were great. This year I planted a garden with the kids and we have some basil and parsley in it. I can't wait to use it.

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