Basil is an herb in the mint family. It is often regarded as the "king of herbs" due not only to the fact that its name comes from the Greek word for "king," but due to its versatility. It is thought to have originated in India before being brought to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, where it is a staple in regional cuisine. It is also hugely popular in Thai cooking. Dark green, large leafed plants, known as sweet basil or Italian basil, are among the most widely used, but there are many other types of basil as well. These other varieties can range in color from purple to varying shades of green
It tastes slightly sweet and slightly peppery, with a hint of clove flavor. It pairs well with most meats, eggs and vegetables. A meat stuffing might include basil, as well as stir-fried vegetables. It can also simply be crushed into olive oil for a lovely dip for bread. The plant is highly aromatic, so beyond cooked uses, it can be added to potpourris or to a dish of hot water (even to a bath) to create a soothing, slightly minty aroma.
Fresh basil is much more fragrant and potent than dried basil, which adds but a shadow of the real thing to a recipe. For proof, simple smell the difference between a single leaf of basil and a jar of dried. Fortunately, basil is extremely easy to grow and grows quickly, though it is sensitive to cold temperatures, so you should wait until spring to plant it. Keep it indoors or outdoors in a sunny spot and water it regularly for best results.
Basil plants will flower if you do not trim them back, though hopefully you'll be using your basil and won't have to worry about it. The flowers of a basil plant are quite pretty and are edible, but are not as tasty as the leaves. They will also inhibit the growth of your plant to a degree, so cut off any buds to maximize the amount of usable basil from your plant.
The only thing about basil is that is has a fairly strong flavor, so often recipes will only call for a bit of it. This also means that it's easy to experiment with its flavor by, say, adding a leaf or two of fresh to a favorite soup or pasta sauce. Here are a few food blogger recipes to get you started:
[Photo by Nicole Weston]