A guide to basil including ideas for using in the kitchen along with recipes.
Basil is a wonderfully fragrant herb that is especially popular in Italian cooking. It is added to the majority of tomato-based sauces for pasta, offering a sweet and pungent flavour, and is also one of the main ingredients of the olive oil
and herb pasta sauce "pesto
There are many varieties of basil, each with their own distinct flavour, that are used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Basil is native to India and Persia but is also commercially cultivated in the Mediterranean.
Basil is a member of the mint
family and is very similar in appearance. The most popular type of basil that is used in cooking is sweet basil but some people like to cook with lemon basil, clove basil or cinnamon basil.
The name of the herb "basil" comes from the Greek word meaning "king" or "royal", reflecting that this herb was regarded extremely highly. In Italy, basil was symbolic for love and was sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.
Basil is nutritious
Basil can be consumed in larger quantities than some of the stronger flavoured herbs and therefore may be of a higher nutritional value.
Basil is an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium and Vitamin C, all of which are hugely beneficial to one's health. It also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin A, magnesium and manganese.
Health benefits of basil
Basil is recognised for its soothing and sedative properties and is useful to calm the nervous system and aid digestion. As well as this, basil is said to:
- Treat respiratory and chest problems such as bronchitis or coughs.
- Relieve cold and flu symptoms.
- Inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.
- Protects cells from oxidation and damage.
- Act as an anti-inflammatory and relieve rheumatic and arthritic conditions.
- Prevent the progression of the above illnesses.
- Improve blood flow through the body by relaxing the muscles and blood vessels.
- Prevent heart disease and failure.
- Act as a digestive.
- Ease stomach cramps and pains.
- Treat nervousness, anxiety, depression, exhaustion and tiredness.
- Relieve migraines.
- Increase the production of breast milk.
- Repel insects.
- Treat insect bites.
- Cure insomnia.
Buying and storing basil
Basil can be bought from your local supermarket, fresh or dried. Fresh basil sold already cut, will keep for a few days if refrigerated and wrapped in a damp paper towel.
Fresh basil is much more aromatic and flavoursome than dried basil and gives a completely different taste to your dishes. Always try to use fresh basil when possible, although you may have to plan your meals and buy the herb fresh accordingly.
Ideas for cooking with basil
Basil goes well with any type of tomato dish, whether it is hot or cold and it is also the main ingredient of the Italian pesto sauce.
Other ideas for using basil in the kitchen are:
- Sprinkle fresh basil over the top of your pizza.
- Add to tomato-based pasta sauces just before serving.
- Add to soups.
- Sprinkle torn basil over a tomato and mozzarella salad.
- Add to stir-fried vegetables.
- Use in a marinade with garlic and olive oil.
- Add fresh leaves of basil to your salad.
Below is a selection of recipes that include basil as one of their main ingredients including chilli chicken with fried basil, fish curry with coconut and basil and pasta with basil and tomato sauce.
Chilli Chicken with Fried Basil
This recipe is a great way of spicing up chicken drumsticks, which are served with delicious deep-fried basil leaves.
- 8 chicken drumsticks
- 3½ oz (100 g) thinly sliced carrots
- 6 sliced celery sticks
- 50 fresh basil leaves
- 1 red chilli
- 3 tbsp of sweet chilli sauce
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1 tbsp of sunflower oil
- Remove the skin from the chicken drumsticks if you prefer and then cut 3 slits into each piece.
- Using a pasty brush, brush each drumstick with the soy sauce.
- Heat the sunflower in a wok and fry the drumsticks for about 20 minutes, making sure that they are browned and cooked through.
- Meanwhile, wash, deseed and finely chop the red chilli and add to the wok with the sliced carrots and celery.
- Fry for about 5 minutes. Then add the chilli sauce and stir so that the drumsticks are coated evenly.
- Cover the wok and cook for several minutes over a gentle heat.
- In a medium-sized saucepan heat some oil for frying the basil leaves over a high heat. Add the basil leaves carefully, standing away so that any oil does not splash onto you.
- Cook the basil leaves until they begin to curl up. This should take about 30 seconds if the oil is hot enough.
- Drain the basil leaves on kitchen paper.
- By this time the chicken and vegetables should be ready and can be served together on a warmed plate. Place the basil leaves on the side and serve immediately.
Red Fish Curry with Basil and Coconut
This dish is exciting, exotic, creamy and hot. It's a great way of cooking cod and is delicious served with rice. This recipe proves that a fish curry is just as tasty as a more traditional chicken curry.
- 1 lb (455 g) of skinless fillet of cod
- 6 oz (170 g) of cherry tomatoes
- ½ pint (300 ml) of coconut milk
- 1 oz (30 g) of flour
- 20 fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp of red curry paste
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp of fish sauce
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- salt and pepper
- Heat the 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok or a large frying pan.
- Place the flour into a flat bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set to one side.
- Cut the cod fillets into cubes of any size and roll in the seasoned flour, coating all sides evenly.
- Place the floured cod into wok and fry the fish for about 4 minutes, tossing the fish in the oil to ensure even cooking.
- In a mixing bowl, blend together the coconut milk, red curry paste, fish sauce and the crushed garlic.
- Pour the liquid into the wok or frying pan and stir. Bring the mixture to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently.
- Halve the cherry tomatoes and add to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Just before the end of cooking time, stir in the freshly torn basil leaves.
- Cook for 1 minute or less and then serve immediately on a bed of rice.
Pasta with Tomato and Basil Sauce
Homemade tomato sauce always tastes better than from a jar. Make sure to add plenty of fresh basil and enjoy. This is a great recipe for pasta lovers.
- Dried farfalle pasta for 4 people
- 1 lb (455 g) of Italian tomatoes, halved
- 12 fresh basil leaves
- 1 tbsp of sun-dried tomato paste
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, halved
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- salt and pepper
- Place the olive oil, tomatoes, skin side up, rosemary and garlic into a roasting tin and cook under a preheated grill for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the grill and when the tomatoes have cooled slightly, remove the skin by peeling away.
- Chop the tomatoes and place them into a large saucepan.
- Add the sun-dried tomato paste and squeeze the pulp from the garlic, adding it to the pan as well.
- Cook over a low heat and add the torn basil leaves. Stir well.
- Season with salt and pepper and check the taste.
- Remove from the heat and cover with a lid. Set to one side to allow the flavours to infuse.
- Bring a pan full of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to instructions on the packet. Gently re-heat the tomato sauce and drain the pasta, as soon as it is cooked.
- Serve the pasta with plenty of tomato sauce.
Mozzarella and Basil Surprises
Make these mozzarella and basil surprises in any size and at any time of day. Serve with a side serving of salad or with a glass of wine.
- 8 slices of bread
- 8 anchovy fillets from a tin
- 5 fl oz (140 ml) of milk
- 3½ oz (100 g) of Mozzarella cheese
- 2 oz (55 g) of chopped black olives
- 4 beaten eggs
- 16 basil leaves
- vegetable oil for frying
- salt and pepper
- Remove the crusts from the slices of bread and then cut each slice in half into two triangles.
- Cut the cheese into thick slices and drain and chop the anchovy fillets.
- Place a slice of Mozzarella onto 8 of the triangles and sprinkle with the chopped olives and anchovies.
- Place 2 basil leaves on top of each triangle.
- Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Cover each triangle with the remaining 8 triangle slices and press down on the edges of the bread to seal the sides.
- Start to preheat the oil in the deep fat fryer. It will need to reach 375°F (190°C).
- Beat the eggs together with the milk and pour the mixture into a large ovenproof dish.
- Place the sandwiches into the milk and leave them to soak for 5 minutes.
- Once the oil is hot enough fry the sandwiches, a few at a time, for 3 minutes or until golden brown in colour.
- Drain on kitchen paper before serving. Serve whilst still hot.