All About Basil: A Great Flavor Booster

Looking for a way to boost the flavor of your meals? Basil, which can taste somewhat like peppery anise or even sweet or lemony depending on the variety you buy, is a great choice. Fresh basil leaves can be used whole, torn, or chopped in salads, egg dishes, and sauces for pastas, for example. Dried basil, on the other hand, is perfect for baked or grilled chicken or fish and in soups. This delicious herb is rich in calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C and it can be enjoyed on all Phases of the South Beach Diet.

Buying Basil
There are many varieties of basil, all with slightly different tastes and uses. Most American markets carry American basil, but you may find additional varieties like purple basil, lemon basil, and others at your local farmers’ market. Basil can be purchased by the bunch or as a whole plant. The benefit of buying the plant is that it will continue to produce leaves even after you've picked some off. Keep a small plant on your kitchen windowsill, and you've got a supply of basil to use for a few months. If you do buy bunches of basil from the supermarket or farmers’ market, look for bright green leaves with no brown spots or other signs of decay. Basil can also be purchased as a dried herb, but it is far more aromatic when fresh.

Storing Basil
To keep basil fresh, put the stalks with their roots still attached in a jar of water, like a bouquet of flowers, and store outside of the refrigerator. (Basil leaves turn brown when refrigerated.) The basil will last for about four days this way. You can also freeze fresh basil by washing and drying, placing the leaves on a cookie sheet and flash freezing; store in a freezer bag and use as needed. Dried basil will keep in its container in a cool, dry place for up to a year. Smell for freshness before using.

Cooking with Basil
To use fresh basil, first pick the leaves from the stalk, then rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. When making soups, stews, or tomato sauce, you’ll get the most intense flavor from fresh basil leaves if you tear or chop them, then sprinkle them in when the dish is nearly finished cooking, since fresh basil does not stand up well to heat. If you’re using dried basil, you can add it earlier. Remember: Dried basil is a lot more intense in flavor than fresh.

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