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Basil is considered a royal and sacred herb according to Greeks. It is a culinary herb, which is originally native to Iran and tropical regions of Asia and has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. The plant has a strong, pungent smell. It is prominently featured in Italian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

There are more than 60 varieties of basil available- sweet basil, Thai basil, holy basil lemon basil etc. Depending on the variety, they are availabe in various colours like dark green, red, purplish etc.

Chopped basil
Place 4 to 5 basil leaves on top of each other on a chopping board and thinly slice vertically using a knife. Now hold all the sliced basil together and finely chop horizontally. Chopped basil is used to flavour soups and stews, in sauces etc.
Shredded basil
Hold 4 to 5 basil leaves in your hand and roll to form a thin cylinder. Hold the rolled basil leaves on one hand and knife on the other hand. Now, chop along the "height"/ edges/ ring of the cylinder to get thin, fine shreds, Shredded basil can be used as toppings on pizzas, as a garnish on soups etc. It is also used to make Basil tea in which shredded basil is infused with boiling water for 2 minutes and then had in batches during the day.

How to select
You can choose from various varieties of basil, fresh or dried. Fresh is preferred over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor. The leaves of fresh basil should look vibrant and be deep green in color. They should be free from darks spots or yellowing. Ensure that the leaves are not wilting and are free from any tears or cuts etc.

Culinary Uses
· It is used fresh in most recipes. Best way to use basil is to add it at the last moment, since cooking can quickly destroy the flavour. The reason behind this is that basil contains volatile oils which get destroyed on over cooking.
· Pesto is a basil base sauce used in Italian cooking for pastas, pizzas, dips etc. Basil is ground along with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
· Use it to flavour soups, salads, starters and main course. Use in dressing for salads or crushed in marinades for chicken, cottage cheese etc. Mozzarella and tomato salad goes brilliantly with a dash of fresh basil.
· Use fresh basil leaves as toppings on pizzas along with goat cheese. This makes an excellent combination. You may also flavour pizza sauce with dried basil if you like.
· Basil is also used to flavour ice creams and chocolates. Steep in milk or cream and then use in the final dessert recipes.
· Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu etc will give them a Thai flair.
· Cream of tomato soups gets a boost when it is cooked with fresh basil leaves. It makes the soup even more aromatic and flavourful.
· Enjoy a warm cup of basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water. This is beneficial for one's health.
· It is one of the flavouring ingredients in the classic liqueur "Chartreuse".
· It is used in preparation of infused oils - basil oil is widely used I many stir fry recipes.

How to store
Fresh basil should be packed in zip lock bags and stored in the refrigerator. You may, however, freeze fresh basil for later use. Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for two seconds, refresh in ice cold water and then pat dry. Place in air tight bags in the freezer.Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

Health Benefits

· Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A. Vitamin A is required for healthy eye sight, skin and hair.
· In addition, basil is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium.
· Recent research shows that compounds in basil oil have anti oxidant (because of presence of carotenoids) , anti microbial, anti viral and anti cancer properties.
· Basil also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, making it a good to consume by people who have problems with arthritis.
· Basil tea is said to help recover from problems like dysentery, nausea and stomach ache due to gas.
· It stimulates the appetite and helps curb flatulence.
· It is traditionally used for treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes.

Related Links

Dried basil
Thai basil
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