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What is basil?

Basil is a herb that is commonly used in cooking. It is part of the mint family and originated in tropical regions of central Africa and southeast Asia. It is used in a variety of cuisines, including Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese, and is often used to season tomato-based dishes, as well as meat and fish. The leaves are green and have a strong, pungent, and sweet aroma. There are several varieties of basil, including sweet basil, which is the most commonly used type, and Thai basil, which has a slightly spicier flavor.

cooking with basil

What are the different types of basil?

There are many different varieties of basil, each with its own unique flavor and characteristics. Some of the most common types of basil include:

  • Sweet Basil: This is the most commonly used type of basil, and is known for its sweet, pungent aroma and flavor. It is the standard basil used in Italian cuisine and is the variety most commonly found in grocery stores.
  • Thai Basil: This type of basil has a slightly spicier flavor than sweet basil, and is commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. The leaves are narrower and more pointed than sweet basil.
  • Lemon Basil: As the name suggests, this variety has a strong lemon aroma and flavor. It is often used in salads and as a garnish for fish and chicken dishes.
  • Holy Basil: Also known as "Tulsi" in India and Nepal. It is considered sacred in Hinduism and is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as well as culinary. It is highly aromatic and has a strong, clove-like flavor.
  • Purple Basil: This variety has dark purple leaves and a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor. It is often used as a decorative garnish and is not as commonly used in cooking.
  • Cinnamon Basil: This variety has a warm, spicy cinnamon aroma and flavor. This is not as common as other types but often used in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil: Has large, smooth leaves with a mild flavor, used in salads and sandwiches

These are just a few examples of the many different types of basil that are available. Depending on where you live and what’s in season, you may be able to find other varieties as well.

How is basil used in cooking?

Basil is a versatile herb that can be used in a variety of ways in cooking. Some common ways to use basil in cooking include:

  • In tomato-based dishes: Basil is a classic ingredient in many tomato-based dishes, such as pasta sauces, pizza, and bruschetta. It pairs well with the acidity of tomatoes and brings a bright, fresh flavor to the dish.
  • With meat and fish: Basil is a great herb to use with meat and fish, as it helps to complement the rich flavors of these foods. It can be used as a marinade, a rub, or as a finishing herb.
  • In salads: Basil can be used to add flavor and color to salads. Its fresh, pungent flavor pairs well with a variety of greens and vegetables.
  • In pesto: Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. This sauce is commonly used as a pasta sauce, or as a spread or dipping sauce.
  • In drinks: Basil is also used in drinks like lemon basil martini and mojito.
  • In desserts: basil can be used in desserts, like basil ice cream, basil sorbet, basil meringue or basil whipped cream etc.

These are just a few examples of how basil can be used in cooking. The key is to experiment with using different types of basil, in different ways and in different dishes, to discover the flavors and aromas that you like best.

What are some good dishes to make with basil?

Some popular dishes that use basil include:

  • Pesto pasta, which is pasta tossed with a sauce made from blended basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
  • Caprese salad, which features sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, often seasoned with salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
  • Margherita pizza, which is typically topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil.
  • Thai basil chicken (pad kra pao gai), which is a stir-fry dish that features chicken, Thai basil, chili pepper, and holy basil.
  • Basil vinaigrette, which is used to dress salads, meats, and vegetables.
  • Grilled eggplant with basil and feta.
  • Grilled shrimp skewers with basil butter.
  • Beef or pork meatballs with basil and parsley.
  • Chicken, mozzarella and basil sandwiches.
  • Fish or tofu curry with basil.
  • Fresh basil-sorbet or basil-sorbet ice cream.
  • Grilled peach and Basil skewers.

You can also add fresh basil as a garnish for many dishes, or as a flavoring for stocks, soups, sauces, and marinades, it gives a fresh taste. It’s easy to add fresh basil to many dishes and it’s a very flavorful herb, it goes well with many ingredients, sweet and savory.

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