Basil, Basil, Basil
I just love basil. And not just the Italian basil, but its kin Thai basil and others. There are many varieties of basil available to home gardeners and in markets. Each has its own special flavor notes and works well in a variety of dishes. Dried basil works in a pinch, but I much prefer fresh basil for its pronounced flavor. International cuisine wouldn’t be the same without fresh basil.
I grow several types of annual herbs during the growing season. I use them fresh when I can, but dry or freeze some for winter recipes. Basil is chief among my herb preferences. Depending upon the variety, some can become little bushes full of aromatic and tasty goodness. They impart something special to salads, and finish cooked dishes with an aroma and spice that is unmatched in its variety. Basil is not just a Mediterranean herb. It features in many Asian dishes, where it balances or heightens flavors like spice, salt, and citrus. Fresh basil imparts a freshness to home cooked meals that dried substitutes can’t.
I always have a pot of fresh basil in my kitchen window. It is still winter and my little plant is looking a little poorly after a few months of harvesting, but I just pop in some new seeds and new plants soon come. The current plant was a cutting from my basil bush outside that I rooted in water in early fall. The cuttings root quickly and will last for a while if potted up. But I can’t wait for some of the other basil varieties that I will plant in late spring.
Types of Basil
My Italian basil selection include a lettuce leaf variety. Not as spicy as the classic sweet or Genovese basil, it has a mellow flavor on the huge leaves perfect for tearing into salads. Lemon basil is unique in that it has less licorice flavor but the aroma is divine and the slight tang useful in dressings. Purple basil adds color and a strong clove flavor. Thai basil is a must for me. I love to make Thai and other Asian cuisine. Fresh Thai basil is essential and adds a spicy note to dishes, combined with an aggressive anise flavor that helps counterbalance hot dishes.
These aren’t the only varieties I grow, but are definitely my mainstays in the garden. I’ve had chocolate basil, lime basil, and Holy basil for my Indian dishes. Basil is one of the easier annual herbs to grow in my zone, where summer is hot and dry, and sun-filled. All I need is seeds and a bit of a head start indoors and I reliably get huge plants filled with the zingy leaves. As an added bonus, I let some of them go to flower to add to a potpourri filled with other aromatic goodies.
I dry some of my annual herbs on the dehydrator for winter use. But one of the best ways I preserve them is by chopping them into a paste in the food processor. Then I fill small ice cube trays with the mixture and freeze them. I can pull out a little cube anytime to use in a wide array of dishes or just to make a quick pesto. Tastes just as good as fresh and it’s convenient when the weather outside is not cooperating to grow tender, annual herbs.