Basil: Summer’s Favorite Herb


In my teensy urban garden, I always allocate some prime real estate to herbs. This year, I have a big pot of basil, and I’ve been enjoying it in myriad ways.

In addition to delivering a delicious flavor to food, basil offers numerous health benefits. It contains antioxidants, serves as an anti-inflammatory, has anti-bacterial properties, supports liver function, detoxifies the body and some even consider it an aphrodisiac.

I can’t say for certain whether I am any healthier for consuming quantities of this seasonal herb, but I am enjoying the dishes it enhances. These four were particular highlights:

Summer Berry and Basil Salad

The contrasting flavors and colors in this salad are wonderful. The sweetness of the berries complements the sharpness of the basil, and the balsamic dressing just pulls the whole thing together beautifully. You can add salted nuts or crumbled goat or feta cheese if desired, but this splendid salad stands on its own just fine.

1 package baby greens (spring mix, arugula or your favorite blend)

1½ cups fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries)

⅓ cup fresh basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup olive oil

1 pinch salt

Sprinkle of fresh ground pepper

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Place the greens, berries and basil in a salad bowl. Cook’s tip for cutting basil in ribbons: After rinsing the leaves, roll them up into little tubes, slice them into tiny rings, then separate them and sprinkle them over the salad.

In a cup, mix the dressing ingredients and stir briskly with a fork or small whisk until totally blended. Pour over the salad and toss well.

Serves 4

Basil Parmesan Biscuits

I know, when the summer heat rises, the oven can be our enemy. But these cook for such a short time and are so delicious that the sacrifice is worth the trouble. Serve them with a frittata, a main dish salad or a chilled summer soup.

4 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces

1⅓ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Scant ¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup buttermilk

⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped basil

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place the butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Beat the ingredients on low until the mixture becomes crumbly.

Add the buttermilk, mix again, then add the cheese and basil. The mixture should remain crumbly and not totally uniform.

Using spoons or your hands, shape the biscuits into rounds on a parchment-

lined baking sheet. Each biscuit should contain about ⅓ cup dough.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the biscuits are crisp on the outside and beginning to brown. Serve warm.

Makes 8 biscuits

Basil Tomato Salsa

This twist on traditional salsa swings the flavor profile toward Italy. Use pita chips or crostini for dipping, or go fusion with tortilla chips. And if you have any left, this does double duty as a pasta sauce; just dump it over cooked pasta and toss to serve.

2 cups chopped tomato

2 tablespoons red onion, chopped finely

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients and allow them to sit for 30 to 90 minutes before serving to meld flavors.

Basil Gimlet

Traditional gimlets call for gin, but I prefer vodka. Substitute rum and you’ve got a daiquiri — just be sure to use fresh lime juice.

2 ounces gin or vodka

1 ounce fresh lime juice

¾ ounce simple syrup (see note)

2 basil leaves (one for muddling, one for garnish)

Place one basil leaf in the bottom of a cocktail shaker and crush it with the back of a spoon or muddler. Add the ice, gin/vodka, lime juice and syrup. Shake well.

Strain into a serving glass and top it with a basil leaf. Serve immediately.

Note: To make simple syrup, place equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar melts.

Makes 1 cocktail


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