Basil: a fragrance oh so pleasant

by Sanjeev Kapoor

You must have enjoyed pasta or chicken with pesto sauce several times, but have you wondered what it is that gives the pesto sauce its wonderful flavour? Let me tell you – pesto sauce is made up of mainly fresh basil leaves and pine nuts. Parmesan cheese and olive oil help to increase its richness. 

What are basil leaves?

Basil is often mistaken for our Indian tulsi. Though it is different yet it is a close relative of tulsi. Basil leaves are larger, thicker and more fragrant than tulsi. However, I would not substitute one for the other. Basil is indeed one of my favourite herbs not just because it adds its special flavour to Thai or Italian dishes but also because I have used them successfully in several Indian gravies. I once made chicken tikkas in basil makhni sauce at one of our house parties, and our guests just lapped it up happily. Since then it has been included in our party menu often.

The fresh crunch

If you have noticed basil is delicate and even when you buy ‘fresh’ basil the leaves are a little shriveled. The appropriate way to revive them is to soak in a bowl of cold water for some time. Or in case you wish to refrigerate, place the leaves in water into the fridge. Hand torn basil is the only way to use basil as using a knife on the leaves turns them black. Sprinkle on salads and pizzas and enjoy the mouth refreshing taste.

Are they good for our health

Basil leaves contain much health benefiting essential oils which are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. They are very low in calories and contain no cholesterol but are rich in many essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are necessary for our optimum health. 

Fresh basil leaves contain astounding amounts of Vitamin A, which is known to have antioxidant properties and is also needed to maintain good vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. 

Puree and preserve

The best way to preserve basil is to strip the leaves off the stalks and then grind it to a puree immediately. This paste can be frozen in an airtight container with a thick layer of olive oil on top. What is so great about this paste kept in this manner? Firstly, the basil gets preserved for a long time. Secondly, the lovely green colour is preserved as is the fresh flavour. Ready basil puree can be added to soups and pastas. The oil on top gets a deep basil flavour as also a tinge of green so salads become more meaningful.

You can also make pesto sauce and store in bottles in the refrigerator. Just grind the basil leaves with some pine nuts, garlic cloves and olive oil. With handy pesto sauce, you can quickly mix it with some pasta or with chicken or even with butter. Pesto flavoured butter spread generously on hot toasts taste divine. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.