Thursday, April 3, 2014

Basil: The King of Herbs!

I planted some basil seeds this spring in a large terracotta pot near the kitchen, and for days I've been going out with a magnifying glass to check on the progress. For twelve long days I've been fretting about what I'd done wrong: The seeds are too deep; the seeds are too shallow; the soil's too wet; the soil's too dry. Maybe it's the wrong kind of soil to begin with. Why didn't I take out farm insurance?

But this morning there they were - tiny little green shoots poking up through the soil. And in about three or four weeks from now we should have nice plump basil leaves whenever we need them. We use this spice constantly around here. Of course you can buy it all year round in most supermarkets - three or four sprigs for about four or five dollars.

The problem with that is that once cut from the plant, the stems and leaves go bad really fast and you find yourself running back and forth to the market two or three times a week just for basil. So having a nice healthy plant on hand where you can snatch as many leaves as needed, one recipe at a time, will be a big time and money saver around here.

The origin of the word basil, both from the Greek and Latin roots, relates to royalty, and therefore a herb fit for kings. And while it's from the mint family, it has a mildly-spicy peppery flavor. For cooking, like the Italians we put it into all types of pasta sauces (tomato, cream, or olive oil); in marinades for fish and chicken; and in soups of every known variety. Even in the slow cooker with a pot roast and vegetables, we drop it in at the last minute to give it an extra kick. And who doesn't know that basil is the main ingredient in pesto sauce?

As a garnish, we shred it with kitchen scissors and sprinkle it on top of pasta sauces, on baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, and rice dishes. We even scramble it into eggs, and it's great inside a grilled cheese sandwich.

My rich employer, who wants to live forever of course, is well aware of basil's health benefits and the internet is full of information on the anti-oxidant effects and cardiovascular benefits.

But it's the flavor of  fresh basil that's made it the king of herbs - and it's been with us in India and Asia for over 5,000 years that we know of.

So am I happy to have fresh basil on hand? You bet! (The only thing I have to worry about now is a devastating drought - like when I forget to water.)

Anyhow, thanks for stopping by this evening,

PS: Dried basil in a spice jar is a poor substitute. Not only are the health benefits of fresh herbs gone, but it tastes pretty much like hay.