Basil derives its name from the Greek word basilikos, which means royal, because it was regarded as such a special herb that only the king was allowed to cut it. This delicate aromatic herb is widely used in Italian and Thai cooking. Basil has a sweet, slightly pungent perfume, which you will notice just by brushing the leaves. The flavor is elusive but distinct, adding its own particular stamp to a wide range of dishes. Basil has a great affinity with tomatoes and other Mediterranean vegetables such as eggplant and fennel and is the herb you are most likely to associate with Italian and Provençal cooking. Basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil make up Italian pesto and its Provençal equivalent pistou. Besides the familiar sweet basil, there are numerous other varieties, many now available in most grocery stores. Purple basil has beautiful dark wine-red leaves, while handkerchief basil has particularly large leaves and Neapolitan basil has crinkly leaves. All varieties have a similar aroma and flavor.

When using basil, add it to dishes at the last minute or use raw, as cooking will destroy the flavor. The leaves bruise easily, so are best used whole or torn, rather than cut with a knife.

Thai basil (also known as Asian basil) has a more aniseed flavor than the basil that comes from around the Mediterranean, with a more pungent aroma. There are a number of varieties, and horapa (sweet basil) comes closest to the basil with which we are familiar, with glossy pointed leaves. Thai sweet basil is used in stir-fries, curries, and salads. Krapow (commonly known as holy basil) is another sweet basil, but with narrower leaves that tend to be dull rather than shiny. The leaves have serrated red or purple edges. Holy basil is the more pungent of the two, with a lemon scent and a peppery flavor.

“Work With What You Got!”

© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen © 2017 All Rights Reserve

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