A few years ago, Basil leaves weren’t really a common ingredient here in Singapore. This is because majority of the people here are Chinese and this spice is rarely used in their cuisine. It was also thought of as an organic and health food which is not consumed with the main meal. In India where they use herbs and spices extensively, Basil leaves are commonly used as ingredients especially in their curries.
There’s a lot of very interesting stories of how the name of the Basil plant came about. There’s a legend that dates back to the 17th century wherein a botanist told the story of a man who took a bunch of dry Basil and stuffed it up his nose. Shortly, the man turned mad and died. Some believe its name was derived from the legendary Basilisk, a mythical serpent that could kill with a glance or a breath.
Basil leaves belong to the family of mints and are mainly used in Italian cuisines. It is also used in Southeast Asia cuisines of Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Thanks to the introduction of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine in Singapore in the last few years, Basil leaves are now widely accepted and consumed.
Actually, there are many varieties of Basil leaves. Just to name a few, the sweet Basil is generally used in Italian cuisine while the lemon Basil is popular for Thai cuisines. The holy Basil is found in India and it is even worshiped and used in religious ceremonies. Of course, it has its culinary purposes too!
There are many species of Basil and the Richters' catalogue has listed 37 different varieties. Among them, the sweet Basil is the most popular variety because of its large leaves and succulent texture. In the culinary world, Basil is usually used fresh because cooking it for a long time can easily destroy the flavour.
Basil leaves can be used whole or torn; though most cooks advise against cutting the leaves with a knife as this tends to dissipate the aroma. It complements other vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, squash and spinach well because of the herb-like aroma. It also enhances the flavour of soups and salads with the addition of fresh Basil. It is commonly added in stews, sauces, and gravies to give additional flavours. If you’re a meat lover, Basil works very well with poultry and fish as it is commonly used for stuffing and marinades.
There are also many medical properties of Basil which can be used for several remedies. In the first century AD, the Romans used it to remedy flatulence. It has also been used as a cough medicine in the Far East and as a worm repellent in the Africa. It is also believed by American colonists that Basil is an essential ingredient in a snuff used to ease headaches.
With so many benefits of Basil, let’s try out some simple and delicious recipes which you can try out at the comforts of your home. Bon appetit!
Basil Leaf Chicken Rice
Citrus Basil Soda
Chicken Pesto Spaghetti