Cooking With Basil: The Do’s and Don’ts

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If you are fond of cooking Mediterranean or Thai food, then you may already know a few things about basil. It is a highly aromatic herb that belongs to the mint family and that is readily available in most grocery stores. Basil is familiar to many, and versatile in that it pairs well with most other common culinary herbs as well as a large number of savory ingredients. While this versatility makes it relatively easy to use, it is still possible to make mistakes. Follow the tips below for the best results when cooking with basil.

Do’s

Do choose the right basil. The most familiar type of basil for westerners is commonly known as sweet basil. While sweet basil does have a lot in common with other types of basil, it is not exactly the same as Thai basil and others of the 100 or so members of the basil family. Its similarity to them means that it can be used as a decent or in-a-pinch alternative, but may not be ideal. ‘

Use sweet basil primarily for European dishes, particularly those from the Mediterranean region. If you are making Thai dishes, you will naturally want to opt for Thai basil if you can find it. Indian dishes may benefit from the use of holy basil.

Do add basil at the right time. Basil is well known for its strong aroma; however, that aroma can disappear relatively quickly as the herb is cooked. Basil does not stand up to long cooking times very well when compared to other herbs like oregano or thyme. To prevent loss of flavor, you will want to add basil later in the cooking process than you would most other herbs. Some experts recommend adding fresh basil as late as the last 60 seconds of cooking.

Do store basil correctly. Basil is versatile in that you can store it in multiple ways without too much lost flavor when you want to use it. Fresh basil leaves can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays filled with water. When you need to give one of your dishes the flavor of basil, simply pop one of the cubes into it.

If you only need it to last a few days, fresh basil can be stored upright in a container of water in the refrigerator like a bouquet of flowers. This herb is also usable when dried. Dried basil should be stored away from light and in an airtight container to maximize its lifespan.

Don’ts

Don’t use wilted basil. Wilted basil is not the same thing as basil that has been properly dried. Wilted basil will not be a visually appealing addition to your dish, nor will be it as flavorful as the herb should be.

Don’t cut your basil with a knife if you can help it. Instead, it is often better to tear the leaves. A knife’s edge will blacken your basil, which will make it less attractive in raw preparations. Some people also believe that cut basil is less flavorful than torn basil.

Don’t use basil outside of the summer. As with the knife tip above, you may have a hard time following this tip all the time; however, note that basil is a summer herb. This means that while you may be able to get it year-round in a well-stocked grocery store, you will usually not get the best quality basil except during the warmest months. Basil sold in the non-summer seasons is also likely to be expensive.