Basil, More than a Leaf of Garnish

September 24, 2013 in Antioxidants, Cooking & Baking Hints, Mediterranean, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

For several years, I planted basil in our herb garden; it never flourished. Then for several more years I struggled to keep it healthy and happy in pots on the shelf outside my kitchen window – only moderate success! Basil wants just the right amount of water; I never got it just right. In addition, basil is quite fussy about the temperature; a little chill can kill it; I’m not talking a hard freeze. This year, I started again with it in pots outside the kitchen window, but saw it begin to wan. We love basil; so in desperation I tried, yet again, a new plan. I took my ceramic pots of basil up to the vegetable garden and planted them in a raised, well-watered, partly shaded garden box. Voilà! They thrived! I’ve been so tickled with my basil this year; it’s almost a bumper crop.

What’s really wonderful about herbs is that you can make foods taste terrific without adding a load of fat and salt. Herbs have much to offer, in addition to making food taste superb, they offer antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and many phytonutrients. Basil has many of these, and also vitamin K.  Maybe the vitamin in basil is linked with bone health; cardiovascular and cognitive health; a reduction of inflammation and risk for diabetes. So basil really promotes health in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, the main reason that I eat basil is its flavor.

I’ve had so much basil this year that I’ve made pesto ahead and popped it into the freezer. I’ve also used some of my extra basil to freeze for the fresh taste of basil all winter (see directions below).

So if you stumble upon a great bargain at a farmer’s market or in your veggie garden, don’t think narrowly about just one or two favorite uses. Don’t just look at all that basil and think about the coming frost; instead, try something new, such as:

  • Fill the food processor bowl with loosely packed basil leaves. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil through the tube as the processor chops the basil.  Pack the chopped basil into little containers or plastic sandwich bags. The olive oil keeps the basil from turning dark. Mark with name ‘chopped basil,’ date of processing and plunk into the freezer. You’re now ready for a winter of flavor.
  • Use some of your basil in stir-fries.
  • Blend the defrosted basil into your favorite vinaigrette recipe – basil vinaigrette dressing.
  • I’ve been adding chopped basil to chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, large lima beans, fresh mozzarella cubes, with a vinaigrette; served on a bed of fresh loose leaf lettuce. Delicious!
  • Of course, what’s fall without tomato basil soup? Put your defrosted frozen basil into the blender and make a puree.
  • Basil is nice in minestrone and just about any veggie soup. Yesterday, I made chicken, rice, and vegetable soup with chopped basil. Yum
  • Stand-bys like Caprese can be eaten year round; pull a little bag from your freezer and mix some balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil; give it a whirl in the blender and drizzle it over tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
  • Add some extra nice fresh taste to your regular tomato sauce by using some of your frozen summer basil.
  • If you want to stretch the fresh basil, you can use parsley or a mixture of basil and parsley in making pesto or green hummus. The Basil favor and smell will prevail!

If you’re buying basil at the grocery store to make pesto, or other big batch recipes, you know what a bite fresh basil can take out of your grocery budget. You may want to buy some basil plants and nurture them in a sunny, loamy, moist patch of your garden to see if you will be blessed with a bumper crop.

Basil has so much to offer; flavor and an enormous amount and variety of nutrients. It’s a leafy green to take advantage of year round. Basil has a lot more to offer than a leaf or two on a Caprese salad in the summer. It is a versatile plant loaded with talent, but is does not have a big ego.  It is just begging to be featured in supporting roles at your mealtime productions.

Saving basil for winter