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Get your 'Basil' instincts right!

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 21:13 IST

What is it about basil that is so endearing? I can count it as one of my favourite herbs, not only for Thai or Italian cooking, but also for adding a different flavour to the Indian gravy. I recently dished up a spinach and paneer roulade in basil makhni sauce.

Basil, sometimes mistaken for our Indian tulsi, is a close relative of tulsi. Its leaves are larger, more thicker and more fragrant than tulsi. I would not use the two as ubstitutes for one another. Basil is a chef’s delight. In fact it marries very well with spinach, tomato and cream cheese. It is pasta friendly too.

The fresh crunch
If you have noticed basil is delicate and even when you buy ‘fresh’ basil the leaves are a little shriveled. The appropriate way to revive them is to soak in a bowl of cold water for some time. Or in case you wish to refrigerate, place the leaves in water into the fridge. Hand torn basil is the only way to use basil as using a knife on the leaves turns them black. Sprinkle on salads and pizzas and enjoy the mouth refreshing taste.

Pure and pureed
The best way to preserve basil is to get the bunch home, strip the leaves off the stalks and then grind it to a puree immediately. This paste can be frozen in an airtight container with a thick layer of olive oil on top. What is so great about this paste kept in this manner? Firstly, the basil gets preserved for a long time. Secondly, the lovely green colour is preserved as is the fresh flavour. Ready basil puree can be added to soups and pastas. The oil on top gets a deep basil flavour as also a tinge of green so salads become more meaningful.

You can use basil to make pesto. Or better still, while you are pureeing basil anyway why not add some pinenuts, garlic and olive oil and have this good bottle of pesto always ready for use in your fridge? Pesto is simply marvellous with chicken, pasta or as a simple dip with crudités. Pesto can also be mixed with salted butter to make a pesto flavoured butter. Try a dollop on warm garlic bread and I am sure you will love it!

Revive the palate
This is the season when your palate craves for new flavours. So make a healthy tomato soup with little sautéed onions and garlic. When you make a puree add some shredded basil and reheat adjusting the consistency with vegetable stock. Let’s add some cream for a full bodied soup and dish it up, nice and hot, garnished with fresh basil and chopped sundried tomato! Oh, not to forget some hot bread rolls with this.

In case you do get your hands on a pack of dried basil, do invest in it as it is an excellent sprinkler on warm buttered toast and home made pizzas!

The writer is a master chef, author & television host. Reach him on