One of the most common herbs, basil is native to India and has been cultivated and utilized as a culinary herb for over five thousand years. The herb was well known throughout the Indian Ocean region and Basil was held in high regard by the Ancient Greeks. Our word for basil comes to us from the Greek basileus meaning “king,” as the Greeks associated the herb with royalty. Basil spread throughout the Mediterranean early in ancient history. Today, basil is considered a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Italian. Varieties of basil include sweet basil, which is typically used in Italian cooking, Thai basil, lemon basil, and holy basil, are all used nearly exclusively in Asian cuisines.
Basil is a common herb in Italian cooking as well as Southeast Asian cuisines, especially Thai. The variety known as sweet basil is typically used in Italian cuisine; and Thai, lemon, and holy basils are used in Asian cooking styles. Fresh basil is fairly versatile and can be added to just about anything, but it’s important to not overcook it. Overcooking fresh basil will diminish its flavor and give it a slimy, unpleasant texture. Just about any pasta dish can benefit from the addition of fresh basil, especially dishes with lighter sauces, such as pasta primavera. Sauces with strong flavors will overpower basil’s delicate flavor. Thai curries, stir fries and pho often incorporate basil. The light citrusy flavor of basil pairs excellently with spicy peppers. Layering fresh basil, mozzarella and tomato slices, and lightly coating the mix in olive oil makes for a light, tasty salad called caprese. Alternatively, layer basil leaves, slices of mozzarella and grape tomatoes on small skewers for an easy and delicious appetizer or party snack. Combine fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor to make pesto, and use it top bruschetta, use it as a pasta sauce, or a dip for fresh vegetables.
Select basil that has deep green leaves, free from significant damage or wilting. Good basil should have rigid stems and the leaves will feel slightly waxy or oily. The best way to store fresh basil is to trim the stems and store in a jar of water, just as you would do with fresh flowers. Alternatively, store basil in the refrigerator, wrapped in dry paper towel to prevent it from becoming wilted. Use fresh basil within a week. Rinse basil leaves immediately prior to using. Do not wash basil too long before using it, as the excess moisture will cause it to wilt.