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Basil is considered a royal and sacred herb not just in India, but also by other communities such as the Greeks. It is a culinary herb native to Iran and tropical regions of Asia, and has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. The herb has a strong smell and is used commonly in Italian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil available including sweet basil, Thai basil, holy basil and lemon basil. The varieties come in different colours like dark green, red, purplish etc.
Place 4 to 5 basil leaves on top of each other on a chopping board and thinly slice vertically using a knife. Now hold all the sliced basil together and finely chop horizontally. Chopped basil is used to flavour soups, stews and sauces.
Hold 4 to 5 basil leaves in your hand and roll to form a thin cylinder. Hold the rolled basil leaves on one hand and knife on the other hand. Now, chop along the edge/ concentric rings of the cylinder to get thin, fine shreds, Shredded basil can be used as toppings on pizzas, as a garnish on soups etc. It is also used to make Basil tea in which shredded basil is infused in boiling water for two minutes and then had in batches during the day.
How to select
• You can choose from various varieties of basil, fresh or dried.
• However, fresh leaves have a better flavour than the dried ones.
• The leaves of fresh basil should look vibrant and be deep green in colour.
• They should be free from darks spots or yellowing.
• Ensure that the leaves are not wilting and are free from any tears or cuts etc.
• The best way to use fresh basil is to add it at the last moment, since cooking can quickly destroy the flavour. The reason behind this is that basil contains volatile oils which get destroyed on over cooking.
• Pesto is a basil based sauce used in Italian cooking for pastas, pizzas, dips etc. Here, basil is ground along with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
• Use it to flavour soups, salads, starters and main course.
• Use in the dressing for salads or in marinades for cottage cheese.
• Mozzarella and tomato salad becomes more exciting with a dash of fresh basil.
• Use fresh basil leaves as toppings on pizzas along with goat cheese. This makes an excellent combination. You may also flavour pizza sauce with dried basil if you like.
• Basil is also used to flavour ice creams and chocolates. Steep in milk or cream and then use in the final dessert recipes.
• Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu etc. to give them a Thai flair.
• Cream of Tomato Soup gets a boost when it is cooked with fresh basil leaves. It makes the soup even more aromatic and flavourful.
• Enjoy a warm cup of basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water. This is beneficial for one's health.
• Basil is used as a flavouring agent in the classic liquor "Chartreuse".
• It is used in the preparation of infused oils, such as the basil oil used in making stir-fries.
How to store
• Fresh basil should be packed in zip lock bags and stored in the refrigerator.
• You may, however, freeze fresh basil for later use. To do this, first blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for two seconds, refresh in ice cold water and then pat dry. Place in airtight bags in the freezer.
• Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.
• Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A.
• Vitamin A is required for healthy eye sight, skin and hair.
• In addition, basil is a good source of dietary fibre, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium.
• Recent research shows that compounds in basil oil have antimicrobial, antiviral and antioxidant properties (because of the presence of carotenoids).
• Basil also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, making it good for people who have arthritis.
• Basil tea is said to help recover from problems like dysentery, nausea and stomach ache due to gas.
• It stimulates the appetite and helps curb flatulence.
• It is traditionally used for the treatment of stress, asthma, diabetes, common cold and cough too.
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