The regular use of herbs and spices in cooking around the world is undoubtedly the best example of the importance given by humans to the taste of their food and the pleasure they get from eating it.
Among the vast selection of plants used to season and spice up meals, basil has, for many years, been used in various regions of the world because of its incomparable taste.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum), comes from the Greek word basilikon, which means "royal". It is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine and in Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
All of these plants have a characteristic in common: they all contain essential oils rich in terpenes, which are aromatic compounds produced by the plant to both defend itself from predators (bacteria and mold) and to attract pollinating insects.
Though some of the terpenes are often toxic for different microbes, humans have been able to take advantage of these properties by using the herbs both to give taste to foods and to help conserve them.
In addition to their great smell, the compounds found in basil oil also have many biological properties that can counter the development of chronic illnesses.
One of the compounds, eugenol, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can play an important role in preventing the development of a climate that helps the progression of many diseases.
Other compounds found in basil, such as rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid, can also interfere in the growth of cancer cells and cause their deaths.
Therefore, using herbs such as basil as often as possible can have a significant impact, both in terms of the taste and their positive effect on one's health.
Basil's aroma is quickly destroyed during cooking; it is therefore important not to cook the herb if you want to maximize its taste.
You can chop fresh basil and sprinkle it on to hot dishes just before serving (white meat, fish) or include it in several cold preparations like mayonnaise, vinaigrette or dips.
A classic use for basil is in a Caprese salad, a dish made up of round tomato slices and mozzarella cheese covered in fresh basil and a drizzle of good quality olive oil.
It is important to always use fresh basil, as the dried herb loses its taste completely and therefore has little use in cooking.
Basil freezes relatively well and it is a good idea to stockpile the herb during the August harvest. You can also keep basil in pesto form by grinding it with olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and garlic.
Pesto is very sensitive to oxidization (it browns quickly when it comes into contact with the air) and it is therefore a good idea to add a good quantity of olive oil to the surface of the pesto which will slow the process and allow you to enjoy the great basil taste for a few months.
If you are not already familiar with the unique taste of basil, adding a few spoonfuls of pesto to pasta is a great and cheap way to discover the exceptional taste provided by the King of Herbs.
Pasta with miso, vegetables and sesame
- 3 cups paste of choice, cooked
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2/3 cup small broccoli pieces
- 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
- 1/3 cup carrots, in small rounds
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons undiluted miso
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 cup ripe tomatoes, diced
- 2/3 cups green zucchini, diced
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 3 teaspoons sesame seeds, grilled
- 4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
- 4 teaspoons flax seeds, crushed
1. Heat olive oil in a pan. Cook the broccoli, mushrooms and carrots over medium-high heat.
2. Add the broth and miso. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta, ginger, tomatoes, zucchini, green onions and sesame seeds. Let simmer slowly until almost all liquid has evaporated.
3. Add coriander and flax seeds, season to taste and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Benoit Dussault, teacher at Ecole Hoteliere de la Capitale in Quebec City.
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