Let’s talk about the long reining king of herbs – basil. Originating out of the sub-continent this fragrant leaf seems to find it difficult to locate a nose that views it as a foe. While we, the consumer, find it a pleasant culinary experience the plant itself does not appreciate being pulled from its earthy home. It wilts and browns quickly…alas. I try to always buy my basil from a farmer’s market as fresh as possible and I store it in a jar filled with a little water in the refrigerator as I would for cut flowers. Though be aware you will be lucky to get 3 days of perkiness. I usually take whatever leftover basil leaves there are and puree them in olive oil, and store it in a jar in the freezer. I will feed this jar all summer long so come winter I will have pungent basil paste to use later in the year.
Don’t be limited by the ubiquitous common basil – there is a full spectrum of redolent basil to excite more than your nose. Thai basil has a decided cinnamon note; lemon basil offers a lovely complexity; bush or fino basil has a small, pointed leaf that delivers a huge bang for its size. I use them all interchangeably allowing my purchase to be dictated more by a capricious desire then the demand of a recipe.
Thai Inspired Dressing - yields approx. 2 cups
1/2 cup packed basil - leaves only
1/4 cup cilantro - washed and leaves only
1/4 cup mint - leaves only
1 stalk lemon grass - bottom third
3 Asian red chilies - diced
1/4 cup Ketcup Manis (or Low-Sodium Soy Sauce)
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup olive oil (or Canola)
2 lemons - juiced
1/4 cup honey (or Rice Bran Syrup)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend till very smooth. Store in an airtight container refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Use over noodles, grilled fish or poultry.