Written by Jill Ettinger
On the recognizable herb scale, basil sits near -- if not all the way at -- the very top. Whether you've made your own authentic pasta sauce from scratch or relied strictly on jarred versions, basil's flavor and aroma is an easily recognizable combination of sweetness and spice. And while atop a pile of linguini noodles is always a wonderful place for basil, consider these other uses for this culinary wonder in its peak season.
There are many varieties of basil, from the Indian (tulsi) or holy basil, which has powerful medicinal properties, to camphor basil, which makes great sachets to protect your wool clothes. Tearing basil leaves gives you the best flavor rather than chopped, and fresh is the only way to eat basil. While some herbs do well dried, basil is most certainly at its glory when as fresh as possible.
Try these 11 uses for your fresh basil:
1. Salad: Liven any ordinary salad with a bit of basil chiffonade. It's exceptional with fresh homegrown tomatoes, a dusting of salt and pepper and a drizzle of the finest extra virgin olive oil.
2. Thai curry: Thai recipes often call for basil, and you can certainly use Italian basil in any recipe. It adds a flavorful body and sweet aroma to a coconut curry or curry soup.
3. Stir-fry: Most likely your vegetable garden bounty is already prime pickin' for a quick stir-fry dinner, and your basil is no exception! Pick fresh leaves and add them in to your favorite stir-fry recipe. They'll add a softness to a spicy or salty dish.
4. Pesto: Of course pesto is one of the more common basil dishes. But try an unconventional recipe, perhaps with hemp seeds instead of pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes instead of cheese. Really!
5. "Cheese" Sauce: Liven up your vegan mac 'n' cheese recipes (and non-vegans welcome, too!) with a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves added just before serving. It will bring out the creamy sweetness of your sauce and add just enough spice to make you want seconds... or thirds.
6. Sandwich: Layer fresh basil onto virtually any sandwich concoction (maybe not the PB&J) for a pleasant surprise.
7. Pizza: Fresh basil transforms a pizza from ordinary into scrumptious. Layer atop the sauce and then pile on the rest of your toppings.
8. Cocktails: There are lots of cocktail recipe uses for basil. You can easily trade in your muddled mint leaves instead for fresh basil for a surprising twist. It works wonderfully in a lemonade, too! You can steep a few fresh leaves in a bottle of wine for a few hours before serving for a rich flavor.
9. Ice cream: Toss a few chopped basil leaves into your homemade vanilla or berry (non-dairy!) ice cream recipes and don't be surprised if you eat the whole batch in one sitting!
10. Bath: Fresh basil leaves in your bath is not only incredibly fragrant but soothing as well.
11. Tea: Soak a few leaves in a cup of hot water to relieve indigestion. Serve plain or with a touch of honey.
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Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger