Basil is one of my favourite herbs. I love the many different ways to use it – as a culinary herb, invigorating tea herb and, in a minor way, a cosmetic/medicinal herb.
Most everyone knows that basil and tomato are an unbeatable combination and that basil is the main ingredient for the traditional pesto sauce. But not everyone is aware that basil can also be used in omelets and scrambled eggs, salads, rice dishes, mushroom dishes and any chicken dish. It perks up many soups, and adds pizazz to pizza.
Some General Information. A useful fact to remember for all herbs is that 3 measures fresh herbs = 1 measure dried herbs. Tearing the leaves releases more flavour than chopping them, which is fine for adding to salads or sliced tomatoes, but for some foods, like soup, butter or dips, I much prefer to bruise them before cutting them into very small pieces. Basil, garlic and parsley are three terrific mix and match herbs. Any two – or even all three – go well together. Most herbs should be added to cooked foods at the end of cooking – basil is one of those herbs.
Basil Culinary Uses:
- A great way to flavour pasta or rice – heat a small amount of olive oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, stir in some finely chopped basil; add the cooked pasta or rice to the basil-oil, stir well and serve;
- If lemon basil is available, make up lemon basil-oil mix as above and stir in cooked rice – this is excellent served with fish;
- Use either of the basil-oil mixes as a dipping sauce for freshly baked bread. Use this basil-oil to replace butter on crusty rolls or bread;
- Add basil to cold rice or pasta salads;
- Finely chopped basil is terrific when added to a ham quiche or a tomato pie;
- Mix low-fat cream cheese with finely chopped basil and use on baked potatoes. Garlic or chives can be added to the cheese-basil mix. Make it a frugal product by using yogurt cream cheese, which actually makes it even healthier;
- Add to chicken stuffing;
- Add to any ground meat mixture, such as meatballs or meatloaf;
- Add to omelets or scrambled eggs – for each egg, add 1 Tbsp. fresh, finely chopped basil;
- Add a snippet to steamed zucchini or carrots. Always add basil at the end of the cooking;
- Add some finely cut basil to sauce for cauliflower;
- For a very simple dip, blend 2 Tbsp. fresh finely cut basil with 1 cup yogurt.
- To make the best basil vinegar for salad dressing – use ¼ cup fresh, torn basil to ½ cup red wine vinegar. When working with herbs and vinegars, glass containers should always be used – no plastic or metal. Give it time to steep and flavours to blend (a week or more is great) – strain and use as is – not necessary to add oil or anything else. Or use purple-leaved basil with white vinegar to make a beautiful red salad vinegar.
- French Herbal Boursin: Boursin is an easy-to-make mild French Cheese Spread, which is delicious when used as an appetizer and spread on crusty bread or crackers. Can also be served as a dip with breadsticks.
To make the Boursin: In a food processor, combine 2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves with 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, 1/4 cup fresh chives and 1/4 cup fresh parsley. Blend in 1 cup (8 oz./250g) cream cheese – yogurt cream cheese may be used – until mixture is well blended and smooth. Chop 1/4 cup black olives (pitted) and add to the cream cheese mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least six hours for flavours to blend. For serving, transfer mixture to a pretty small bowl and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil or parsley.
Basil in Beverages:
- Basil Tea tastes more like a broth than what we think of as tea. It’s most enjoyable as a pick-me-up after a tiring, stressful day. Using ½ Tbsp. fresh basil and ½ Tbsp. chamomile flowers to make the tea will relieve a mild stress headache. To make: Start with cold water and bring to boil. Use 1 Tbsp. fresh basil (1 tsp. dried) and add to tea ball or wrap in cheesecloth and place in a pre-warmed, non-metallic teapot. Pour the boiling water over the herbs, cover and let steep 5-10 minutes. This may be sweetened with honey;
- Green Tea by itself is very bland. Adding a basil leaf or two will greatly improve the flavour and, if taken just before eating, will aid digestion;
- Tomato-based juices can be spiced up just with the addition of a basil leaf.
Basil in the Bathroom:
Basil Vinegar. To make this vinegar you fill a clean, sterilized, wide-mouthed jar with chopped fresh basil leaves, cover with vinegar and let it steep for at least a week. Then strain into a clean jar and cover with non-metallic lid or rubber stopper.
- Basil vinegar added to bath water revitalizes and softens the skin by balancing the skin’s pH level. It stimulates blood circulation which re-energizes the body. To use, add 1/2 a cup of bath vinegar to a tubful of water.
- The vinegar can be used as a final rinse after shampooing to give hair extra shine.
- Basil vinegar is an effective antiseptic and is good to use for relieving itch from insect bites. This morning I also discovered that it takes away the rash and sting caused by a stinging nettle plant. I saw one of those plants growing where it shouldn’t and, without thinking, I pulled it out to throw it away. I was surprised how much that hurt. Fortunately the vinegar relieved it within a minute. Isn’t great to learn new things?
Basil as a Mosquito repellant:
- Placing a few stalks on the grill when barbecuing will keep mosquitoes away.
- Bruising a basil leaf and rubbing it on the skin will repel the nasty critters.
- Bruising a leaf and pinning it to your shirt sleeves or hat will also do the trick.
Isn’t this just the most wonderful herb? It truly does do it all.
Talk to you again next week,