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Thursday, 03 December 2009

The Royal Green

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum (Lat.), Basilicum (Nl.), Basilic (Fr.))

Basil is often referred to as 'The king of herbs'. Whether that is because of its history or its culinary value, I know one thing for sure: I treat Sweet Basil like a queen in my kitchen. And that is exactly how one should use the delicate herb: with care and respect. There are few herbs as capable of making a simple ingredient, e.g. a tomato, shine like a star.

One can argue if Basil is worthy its title as 'King of herbs', but we cannot take away its prevalence in the herb kingdom throughout history: remains of Basil have been found in Egyptian burial chambers. In India, the sacred Basil ((Tulsi, Vrinda, Goddess Radha) still plays an important part in the Hindu religion, whilst oddly , the ancient Greek considered a symbol of Poverty and even associated it with hatred. Maybe that is because they discovered the Romans liked it so much. The famous botanist Nicholas Culpeper wrote about Basil: 'It helps the deficiency of Venus in one kind, so its spoils all her actions in another. I dare write no more of it'. Yet, he attributed a lot of medicinal and other beneficial properties to the herb that are widely accepted today; Basil aids digestion, can relieve headaches and is an excellent insect repellent.

More importantly, in Italy, Sweet Basil is associated with Love, and I was once told that on the island of Malta, single girls would put a pot of fresh Basil on the balcony to indicate that they are available. At least they have something ready to throw at the stubborn young man that insists on marrying after being rejected.

Reasons enough to love Basil. Do I still need to tell you what to do with it in the kitchen? I don't think so. We have all experienced its unique aroma and flavour on a Tomato and Mozzarella salad or in a Pasta with Pesto. Let me rather tell you what you should not do with Basil:
  • do not cook it; Basil looses its fragile aroma when heated. Sprinkle fresh leaves over your dishes just before serving;
  • do not cut it; rather tear the leaves by hand so the essential oils do not evaporate;
  • do not add it too long in advance to sauces that are high in acidity (e.g. vinaigrette); it will turn brown;
  • do not dry it. Use it fresh. I guess that's what the Greek must have hated: dried Basil leaves! 
"I will show you a philtre without potions, without herbs, without any witch's incantation--if you wish to be loved, love."


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