Simply Organic Basil Description
A lovely member of the mint family with a mildly peppery taste, a hint of clove and mint, basil is at the same time spicy and sweet, warm and fresh.
Botanical name: Ocimum basilicum L. , Ocimum basilicum
There are over twelve varieties of Basil grown for culinary use, the most common of these is Ocimum basilicum. ("Basileus" is Greek for "king") Alternative names include herb royale, St. Joseph's wort, and sweet basil. Basil is an annual, herbaceous plant with greenish or whitish flowers, the leaves range in color from dark to light greens (and even purplish hues) with a grayish-green underside. These leaves turn dark quickly after they've been cut, so fast drying at low temperatures is important to preserve color and flavor.
A fresh green color, strong sweet flavor and high volatile oil content indicate quality dried basil. Wildly popular in ethnic and American kitchens, basil's warm, sweet, mildly minty/peppery flavor is enjoyed with vegetables (especially tomatoes), in dressings and sauces, soups and stews, and with meats, beans, and grains. It's even earned a place next to oregano on pizzas.
Depending upon the culture, basil has historically been both revered and reviled. In Italy, where it's a symbol of love, a sprig of basil in the hair of a man announced his intentions to wed his sweetheart; a pot of basil on her balcony indicated her willingness. In India, basil was a symbol of hospitality, and it was often given as a gift. Hindus were buried with a leaf of sacred basil, Ocimum sanctum, on their breast. Basil is also said to have been found near Christ's tomb, hence the European custom of placing it in the hands of the dead to insure a safe journey to heaven. On the other hand, the Greeks believed that basil's aroma could drive one insane, and in the Middle Ages people believed that scorpions bred under pots of basil rendered the brain of anyone who ate the savory herb susceptible to scorpions! Ancient Greeks and Romans were convinced that shouting and cursing were prerequisites during the sowing of basil seed, to insure a good crop. (In fact, the French idiom "sowing the basil" means raving.) Sweet basil is the name for the common cooking basil, though there are several kinds of basil, sweet basil is the most common in culinary use. It is very popular in Italian and American kitchens, but Basil is also prominent in French cuisine-- where it's an essential ingredient in the blends Fines Herbs and Herbs de Provence. You'll also find it in recipes from the Mediterranean, Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan.
- Try basil with fish, poultry, beans, pasta, rice, eggs, and vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and spinach.
- Use it in soups, stews, vinegars, and salad dressings (or sprinkle it directly on salads).
- Lay fresh leaves of basil over sliced fresh or buffalo mozzarella and drizzle with olive oil for a quick, light salad.
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