When asked what my favorite herb is, I'd have to go with basil. Not only is it fragrant and flavorful, but it's also a beautiful plant. Basil is an annual herb belonging to the mint family. It's so easy to grow that even I, a wannabe gardener with a black thumb, cannot kill it.
If you grow your own basil, harvest right before you plan to use it. Rinse it with water and pat it dry before using. If buying fresh basil, take it out of the container, and place the stem-end in a glass with about a quarter-inch water. Basil doesn't like cold temperatures and may turn black if refrigerated so leave it at room temperature.
Fresh basil may be prominent in a chef's kitchen due to its versatility. It tastes wonderful with tomatoes and is commonly used in margherita pizza, bruschetta, or tomato basil soup. Of course, it's also the main ingredient in traditional pesto, which can be used in pasta dishes or with chicken or fish. When using fresh basil in a hot dish, wait to add it until the end cooking time. The longer the basil is cooked, the more flavor that is lost. In fact, when making a margherita pizza, top with fresh basil once the pizza is completely cooked to avoid brown basil with no flavor.
Try chopping basil and use it in a salad dish, such as the one below. It's one of the main ingredients in a Caprese salad, along with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Basil doesn't just show up at the appetizer round and main course; it can also make an appearance at the dessert or drink table. It pairs well with fruit, such as watermelon, lemon, lime, strawberry or mango. It can actually make a delicious ice cream, and it can also be steeped with lemon and tea for a refreshing basil iced tea drink.
Edamame with Basil, Cranberry and Feta (Printable PDF)
1 bag (10 oz.) frozen shelled edamame
¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
½ cup dried cranberries
1 Tablespoon olive oil
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup feta cheese crumbles
Cook edamame in microwave or over stovetop according to package directions. Set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, toss all ingredients together. Place in refrigerator and serve chilled.
Yield: 5 servings
Nutritional analysis per serving: 160 Calories, 9 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 8 grams protein