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Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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Cooking with basil

Basil is one of the classic tastes of Mediterranean cuisine. Its distinctive flavour adds a special, summery freshness to all sorts of dishes and even to desserts and drinks. The tender, bright green leaves go perfectly with all kinds of tomato dishes, from filled grilled tomatoes, bruschetta, risotto, soups, sauces and salads. It’s the main ingredient in pesto alla genovese, which is made of fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil and garlic ground together in a pestle and mortar or chopped in a blender. Many other pestos profit from a touch of basil as do gratins, herb soups, meat, fish and seafood dishes. It’s best to add fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped to the finished dish, because basil tends to loose its distinctive flavour and turn bitter when cooked. For a special effect, add basil to sweet desserts, such as strawberries, sorbets, fruit salads and fruit punch.

Origin, appearance, cultivation

The name basil comes from an old Greek word meaning “king”. Basil has a very high content of essential oils and is often used in naturopathy to counter flatulence, bloating and loss of appetite.

In botanical terms, basil belongs to the genus labiates and probably originated in the Indian subcontinent. It arrived in central Europe sometime in the 12th century. There are many different species of basil, many of them commercially available. For example, there’s lemon basil, cinnamon basil, small-leaved Greek basil and purple basil. To grow your own basil, you need a warm, sheltered and sunny site. Basil likes humus-rich, sandy soil and needs quite a lot of water. Wait at least four years before growing basil again in the same bed. The best time to harvest basil leaves is just before the plant flowers, because that’s when they have the highest content of essential oils. Cut the stalks with the leaves about a hand’s breadth from the ground.

Buying, quality, storage

You can freeze basil leaves in ice cubes, or preserve them in oil or vinegar. Basil can be dried, but it looses a lot of its flavour and aroma in the process. Fresh basil is generally sold rooted in small pots or as a bunch. It should have an intense aroma and if you give it a little shake, it shouldn’t loose any leaves. 

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de