Fresh aromatic basil is just starting to make an appearance at weekly area farmers markets. Delivering the true essence of summer, this fresh herb is by far my favorite to emerge all year.
Whether used to top fresh slices of layered tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, added to your favorite stir fry, or blended to produce a flavorful salad dressing, basil is one item you should consider keeping in your kitchen for the months to come.
While basil has been available in moderation over the past few months from greenhouse growers, the core season for this fresh herb produced under the sun’s rays runs from late April through October.
Native to India, basil is now cultivated all over the world, thriving in warmer climates, predominantly in subtropical and Mediterranean zones. If conditions become too hot, basil will bolt (flower), making it much less desirable for culinary use. If the temperature gets too cold, basil will simply not grow.
There are a number of varieties of fresh basil to choose from locally, all delivering slightly different flavors and textures.
The most common is the sweet Italian basil, which produces the largest and sweetest leaves, which are bright green in color. It is by far the most versatile and easiest to work with in the kitchen. This variety is commonly used in Italian-style dishes, often seen chopped over fresh pasta, on a caprese salad, or on a homemade pizza. It is also the best for a homemade bruschetta or fresh pesto.
The other main types of basil you will find locally are lemon basil, Thai basil and purple basil. Lemon basil is like an infusion of fresh lemon worked into the Italian-style basil, noticeable both in the aroma and flavor. The leaves are also large and bright green, but not quite the size of Italian basil. Lemon basil is wonderful when used to flavor coconut soups, and it is my top choice when serving freshly cooked fish.
Thai basil, in comparison, is quite different, as it produces much smaller leaves that are variegated green and purple in color. Thai basil delivers spicy notes over the characteristic licorice flavor.
Found commonly in Southeast Asia, Thai basil is commonly used in curry dishes, Asia-style stir-fries and soups. Thai basil was on full display at the Saturday downtown farmers’ market this past weekend from the Her Family Farm, so it was my top choice of the week.
Fresh basil is best when added to your dishes at the very end of the cooking process. When exposed to too much heat, the characteristic flavor of fresh basil diminishes greatly.
Whether adding to soups, stir-fries or sauces, add your raw chopped basil just before serving for optimum flavor.
This week I enjoyed my Thai Basil Salad, which is a fresh chicken salad recipe. Not being a big fan of mayonnaise, I find a little Greek yogurt adds the perfect creamy consistency that helps bind together the mixture.
Thai Basil Chicken Salad
2, 6-8-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts.
1 tablespoon olive oil.
1 teaspoon ground cumin.
1 teaspoon garlic powder.
½ teaspoon ground ginger.
½ teaspoon ground turmeric (can omit if not available).
Salt and pepper.
¼ cup Greek Yogurt.
1 cup apple, diced.
3 celery ribs, diced small.
½ shaved or slivered almonds.
½ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves.
½ cup Thai basil leaves, finely chopped.
3 green onions, sliced into thin small rounds.
Additional seasoning as desired to taste.
Preheat the oven broiler to high heat (or you can grill the chicken).
Cut your chicken breasts in half lengthwise to produce four thinly sliced breast sections. Drizzle with olive oil and rub on chicken breasts to coat.
Combine your cumin, garlic powder, ginger, turmeric, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix. Then rub over the outside of the chicken breasts. Place on a foil lined baking sheet in a single layer, then place in the oven about 6 inches under the broiler flame.
Cook for about 6 minutes, then flip and cook for a final six minutes.
Remove from the oven, wrap chicken in the foil that lined the baking sheet and let rest for about 15 minutes. Then chop the chicken into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Mix the chicken together with your remaining ingredients until well incorporated.
Serve on a sandwich bread in a salad with mixed greens. Season additionally as needed to taste.
Yield: Serves about 4.