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Basil: an herb with many facets

I find basil as a truly multifaceted herb. For not only does it have a rich, spicy flavour with a trace of mint, clove and licorice, it also at times adds interest to flower arrangements. It is indeed one of my favourite herbs and besides using it to spice up Thai or Italian dishes; I have used it in typical Indian curries and that too with good results.

There are as many as 150 known species of basil of which sweet basil is the most commonly grown. Some people liken it to our Indian tulsi. Though it can be called a close relative, there is difference. Basil leaves are larger, thicker and more fragrant and I would certainly not suggest that one could be substituted by the other.

It does have a history:

Basil is widely grown in India and Asia and is used the world over. You can find it mentioned in history. Apparently in Tudor England, the farmers’ wives presented visitors with little pots of basil. But like it is said one man’s meat is another man’s poison, basil is a symbol of love in present-day Italy, but it used to be a symbol of hatred in ancient Greece.

Legend has it that the ancient Greeks depicted poverty as a ragged woman with basil at her side. Another interesting thing I learnt about this flavourful herb is that the early Greeks and Romans thought basil would grow only when the gardener shouted and cursed while sowing the seeds. Well, I really couldn’t guarantee that therefore cannot really recommend it.

Handle them with delicacy

Basil leaves are delicate and even when you buy them fresh, they are a little shrivelled. They can be easily revived by soaking them in a bowl of cold water for a while. You can even keep them soaked in a bowl of water in the refrigerator. And yes, the best way to use them is to hand tear the leaves because if you use a knife to cut them they turn black. Basil, as we know, is an integral part of pesto sauce. You can even sprinkle them on salads, pizzas and pastas to give them an additional fresh flavour.

Pure and pureed

If you want to preserve basil, the ideal way to do so is to puree them and freeze in airtight containers with a thick layer of olive oil on top. This way the puree keeps fresh longer and lovely green colour as well as the flavour is retained. And whenever you want to flavour any soup or pasta, you just add a few dollops of the puree.

Similarly you can make pesto sauce and preserve to use as and when you want to. To make the sauce puree basil leaves with pinenuts, garlic and olive oil. You can use the sauce with chicken, or pasta or even as a dip. Try using it as a bread spread...I can promise you that you will love it!

Storing basil

You can even dry basil leaves and preserve but it loses flavour to a certain extent. But if the herb is dried fast, much of the flavour is retained. For this spread on a tray, cover with a single sheet of newspaper and dry outdoors but not in direct sunlight. This way the green colour will be retained.

Basil retains its flavour better if stored as a whole leaves and crushed at time of use. Store in tightly sealed glass jars away from heat and light.

Basil is a treat for your taste buds and great addition to your culinary tool box.