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The Basics of Basil

As our series on herbs and spices continues, let’s cover one of the most widely-used fresh herbs in the culinary world: basil.

Basil is most commonly used fresh because cooking diminishes its flavor. It’s generally added to recipes after the other ingredients have been cooked. Dried basil is available but not as widely utilized as the fresh version.

The basil plant can be grown indoors or outdoors and will grow in most climates with proper care. Its leaves generally have a shiny, light-green hue, but purple basil is also becoming popular. Like many herbs, basil is said to help control garden pests.

The nutrition profile of basil is similar to most herbs in that it’s relatively rich in vitamin K (warfarin users take note), vitamin A and a handful of minerals while being very low in calories.

Basil is a versatile ingredient, but it’s most often used in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. Caprese dishes – which could be anything from a salad to a pizza to a stuffed avocado – combine basil with mozzarella, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Basil is also the key ingredient in pesto, an Italian sauce or spread that also incorporates olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese.

In addition to caprese and pesto, basil is great in soup, with fish, on sautéed veggies or with a fruity snack.

My favorite way to eat basil? I’m a caprese fan, so I can make a great lunch out of a handful of basil, a juicy tomato, some mozzarella cheese and some balsamic vinaigrette dressing. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.

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