Herbs & Spices – Basil


Usually found in Asia, basils have somewhat confusing names as they vary in different countries and region (In Malaysia and Indonesia they are known as kemangi and selasih). However, the plants are distinctly different in appearance and flavour. The closest to European or sweet basil (O. basilicum) is the variety most commonly encountered in the region, especially in Thailand and Vietnam. Known as bai horapa, it is often eaten raw, served on a platter of fresh herbs, which are added to lettuce wrappers for enclosing spring rolls, or nibbled with raw vegetables and a spicy dip, or even added, to stir-fried chicken, beef and to curries.

Another variety of basil, slightly hairy, paler green and smaller leaves than the sweet basil, known as bai manglak (Thailand) is sometimes fried with seafood in Malaysia and Indonesia. Another type, holy basil (kaprow in Thailand) is sacred to Hindus. It has narrower leaves than the two others varieties and less commonly used in regional cuisines. The herb releases its flavours only when cooked, and is used with fish, chicken and beef.


Selecting and Storing

When buying fresh basil, choose evenly colored leaves that show no sign of wilting. Refrigerate fresh basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to four days. For slightly longer storage, you can place a bunch of basil in the refrigerator for up to a week. Set it in a glass of water, stems down, and put a plastic bag over the leaves, changing the water every two days.

To preserve fresh basil, wash and thoroughly dry the leaves. Then alternate layers of leaves and layers of coarse salt, using a container that can be tightly sealed. Preserved basil keeps indefinitely on the shelf. Dried basil can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to six months.Fresh basil has a more defined flavor and a more fragrant aroma than dried basil. Please note that basil does not freeze very well.


How to use

Basil is a wonderful addition to many foods and is especially popular in the cuisines of Chile, France, Italy, Lebanon, and Thailand. It pairs well with summer vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, corn, and baby potatoes. Basil is also a delicious addition to green and pasta salads, herb breads, and pizza.

Basil combines nicely with thyme and marjoram. Experimentation is the best way to determine how much seasoning tastes best to you. A good rule of thumb for using dried basil, is 1 teaspoon (1g) for a dish that serves four people.