Sweet basil (or Basil to his friends) is the undisputed king of the culinary herbs.
Sweet basil, also known as basilie and basiliekruid, originated in India, where it is regarded as a herb sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. It is thought to protect against evil and every Hindu is buried with a leaf of basil – a tulasi – on his or her breast.
- How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking
- How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy
- How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care
- How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil
- As a Food
- As a Medicine
- Sweet Basil
- Why Basil Is So Good for You—Plus 14 Ways to Use More of It All Summer Long
- Choose the best
- Prepare it
- Store it
- Cook it
- Pounded in a pestle and mortar or food processer with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil to make pesto; added to tomato-based pasta sauces; combined with sliced mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil for a classic Caprese salad; chopped and beaten into softened butter, then melted over steaks, roast chicken, or crushed boiled new potatoes.
- 1. Tomatoes
- 2. Olive Oil
- 3. Garlic
- 4. Balsamic Vinegar
- 5. Fruit
- 6. Mint
- 7. Lemon
- 8. Eggplant
- 9. Vegetables
- 10. Peanut Butter
How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking
Best used fresh (dried basil does not have the same flavour, a minty taste predominates), sweet basil has a pungent, aromatic and spicy flavour that resembles cloves. It’s an outstanding choice as a home cuisine herb and you can never have too many sweet basil plants growing in your garden.
Sweet basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce. You can also add sweet basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta and pasta sauces and salads. It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.
Always add it just before serving to cooked dishes as its flavour diminishes with cooking. Pound it with a bit of olive oil or tear it with the fingers, rather than chopping it. Sweet basil combines well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage.
How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy
Sweet basil is used extensively in aromatherapy for ailments such as stress, migraine, colds and hay fever. It has antispasmodic, appetizing, carminative, galactagogue and stomachic properties. It is quite effective for tension headaches, exhaustion and digestive upsets such as stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and enteritis.
Make an infusion by adding 2 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1/2 cup boiling-hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink hot. Take three times a day.
Sweet basil is also used in flower therapy for those who tend to separate spirituality from sexuality, believing the two cannot be integrated.
Traditionally the dried leaves were pounded and, taken as snuff, used as a remedy for colds.
How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care
You can make an invigorating beauty bath by adding a strong infusion of fresh basil leaves to your bath. Use 1 cup chopped basil leaves in 2 cups boiling-hot water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Then add to bath.How To Use Sweet Basil as a Companion Plant
Sweet Basil is a most beneficial companion for your other plants. In particular it enhances the flavour of summer savory and it helps tomatoes to grow larger and more flavoursome.
It’s a good insect repellant for white fly, aphids and fruit fly. A pot of basil, set on a windowsill near an open window, will prevent flies from entering the room through the window.
Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘… something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another.’ – but in our experience they are quite happy bedfellows.
You can set pots on windowsills and in open doorways to deter flies, or you can add a few leaves to the barbeque fire to deter moths. You can also grow it as an attractive pot plant for the patio.
How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil
Sweet basil is a tender annual that grows about 40-60cm high. It prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position. Protect your sweet basil against cold winds and frost. Space the plants about 30cm apart and pinch out the growing tips and flower heads to encourage a bushy habit.
Sweet Basil is propagated from seed and young plants can be purchased from nurseries to plant in your herb garden.
Harvesting and Preserving Your Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil is such a vigorous herb that you’ll always have an abundant harvest to share with others.
Don’t try to dry your sweet basil as the flavour is not the same as fresh basil. You can keep the leaves briefly in plastic bags in the refrigerator or you can preserve them in olive oil or vinegar. To freeze you can puree the leaves with a little water and freeze them in ice cube trays or you can cover both sides with olive oil and freeze them whole.
Purple Splash Basil Vinegar
Definitely one of our favourite basil preservation recipes. Not only because it is a lovely pink, but because the vinegar preserves the flavour of the basil exceptionally as well. We use purple splash in our marinades, salads, stir fries and home-made mustards.
For the bathroom we make it with apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse and to add to the bath water. It restores the natural acid mantle of the skin and hair and is exceptionally good for dry, itchy skin – traditional winter skin.
Learn how to make your own herbal vinegar.
As one of the easiest herbs to grow indoors, many newbie gardeners may find themselves landed with an abundance of pungent and peppery fresh basil leaves to use up. Availing of the flavor and healing powers of basil shouldn’t be of concern though – this herb is as easy to use as it is to grow!
Read Next: How To Grow A Giant Basil Bush: A Pro Gardener Reveals Their Secret
How To Harvest & Prepare Basil
You can harvest basil from your plant at any time, which is why a sunny kitchen window is the perfect position for this delicious herb. Not only will you be flavoring your food, you’ll also be encouraging the plant to produce even more leaves.
For best results, harvest small amounts regularly (no more than one third of the entire plant at any one time). Rather than cutting off a stem in its entirety, pinch a few leaves off several stems which will encourage the plant to fill out.
If growing outdoors, at the end of the season (before first frost) cut the stems to the ground. You’ll then need to remove the leaves from the stems, discarding any dead or damaged ones. Compost the stems and keep the beautiful basil leaves for the following uses:
As a Food
Basil has been used around the world for centuries with good reason – it adds a delicious depth of flavor that cannot be matched by other herbs. Some of the more popular culinary uses of basil include:
1. Classic Pesto
One of the best known sweet basil based recipes, pesto alla Genovese is fantastic on pasta, pizza and salads, or served with meat or fish. This recipe calls for fresh aromatic basil, raw garlic, aged parmesan, pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil.
For a dairy-free and vegetarian version (parmesan contains animal products!), this pesto isn’t quite such a traditional recipe, but it’s pretty close and packs a flavor-filled punch.
2. Dressings and Marinades
An incredibly versatile herb, basil can be used in all manner of dressings and marinades. Lemon juice and honey perfectly complement basil’s pungency in this delicious salad dressing while a basil, balsamic and garlic marinade is perfect on chicken or tofu.
3. Vinegars and Oils
Preserving the flavors of basil through vinegar or oil infusions is a simple way to store and use your excess basil leaves, without the need for fancy equipment.
Try making this basil vinegar for use in salad dressings, marinades and other recipes requiring vinegar. Likewise, basil oil can be used for all these recipes and more – including as a healthy drizzle over cooked vegetables or as a dipping sauce for warm, crusty breads.
4. Herbal Butter
Flavored butters are a wonderful tasty addition to grilled meats and vegetables, pasta, potatoes and breads. Save money and preserve your basil bounty by making your own flavored organic butter – this lemon basil garlic butter recipe is especially impressive.
5. Basil Salt
Yet another way to use your basil leaves while sneakily imparting a flavor burst to your food, basil salt is surprisingly easy to make. Follow this two-ingredient recipe.
6. Sauces and Soups
One of the most classic pairings in Italian cuisine is tomato and basil – which is why you can’t go wrong adding some fresh or dried basil herb to your tomato based pasta and pizza sauces, along with those for cottage pie, lasagna and more.
Soups, too, are a fantastic way to enjoy basil. Aside from the classic tomato and basil soup, the herb pairs well with carrot, zucchini, mixed vegetable, pea, broccoli or chicken.
7. Salads and Sandwiches
While we all think to add basil to a Caprese salad, few experiment with this zingy herb in other leafy meals. But it’s delicious chopped up with other greens, and always works with tomato and cucumber. To really push the boat out, try this basil Caesar salad; pair basil with feta cheese or get in the summer mood with a blend of strawberry, cucumber and basil!
Basil works in all manner of sandwiches too – whether they’re open or closed or served on wraps, pita breads, flat breads and more.
8. Breads and Pastas
Don’t just serve basil on your pastas or bread, mix it into the dough of these delicious staples.
This basil and garlic fettuccine is so flavorful it doesn’t require much more than a light butter or olive oil sauce and the flecks of basil liven up the dinner plate. Stick with a Mediterranean theme by dipping warm chunks of this whole-wheat basil focaccia bread into extra virgin olive oil.
Basil’s peppery flavor doesn’t just lend itself to savory dishes, it actually works surprisingly well in a great many desserts too!
Lemon basil yogurt cake, mint basil syrup, strawberry basil shortcakes, basil ice-cream, strawberry galette or basil lime sorbet are just some of the ways you can satisfy your sweet tooth while making use of your basil plant.
Add a little zing to many cocktails with a few torn basil leaves – gin and tonic, vodka and soda, or even a mojito will all benefit from its peppery flavor.
For something a little more complex – that really lets the basil shine – try a strawberry and basil margarita; a basil and lime vodka cooler; a strawberry, rhubarb and basil Bellini; or a cucumber and basil vodka.
Herb infused alcohol-free drinks are equally delicious – cool down this summer with sweet basil lemonade or a cucumber, mint and basil soda. For a warming, tropical feel this pineapple basil tea has you covered, while smoothie lovers will appreciate a banana and basil shake.
11. General Cooking
The list of ways to use basil in the kitchen doesn’t end here – it has a myriad of applications from stir fries to scrambled eggs, from curries to tagines. Experiment with your basil harvest and you’ll soon discover how truly versatile this delicious herb can be.
As a Medicine
Basil should be part of everyone’s natural medicine cabinet – some varieties of the plant are actually as strong as anti-inflammatory drugs and have been shown to reduce swelling in arthritic patients by up to 73% in just 24 hours!
Here’s how you can harness its therapeutic properties:
12. Basil Essential Oil
Make your own basil essential oil from your organic and homegrown plant and reap its many health benefits – including relief from nausea, motion sickness, indigestion, constipation, respiratory problems, stress, uneven skin tone, insect bites and poor circulation. This tutorial provides a step-by-step guide to making your own essential oils.
To make a less potent sweet basil oil (a simpler process), infuse basil leaves in a carrier oil like jojoba or olive for three to six weeks. This can be used to soothe insect bites, to rub into sore muscles or to give a relaxing massage.
13. Steam Away Headaches
Because basil works as a muscle relaxant and has analgesic properties, steam infused with the leaves of the plant is said to be an effective treatment for tension headaches.
Add a tablespoon of dried basil leaf, a handful of fresh leaves or a few drops of basil oil to three cups of water and bring to a boil. Transfer immediately to a large, heat proof bowl. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl, positioning the towel to keep in as much steam as possible. Breathe in the vapors for up to ten minutes.
Alternatively, you can diffuse some basil essential oil through the room, or massage a drop or two (mixed with a carrier oil) onto the temples.
14. Calm the Stomach
Basil tea is great for soothing an upset stomach or helping digestion. Steep three basil leaves in a cup of boiling water and drink three or four times a day, between meals.
It’s also thought to relieve symptoms of acid reflux, especially when mixed with a spoon of raw honey.
15. Bites and Stings
In addition to its painkilling properties, basil oil is both antimicrobial and antioxidant according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, making it a fantastic addition to any topical healing salve.
These properties are probably what makes basil so successful at relieving the pain and itching associated with insect bites or bee stings. While you can apply some basil oil to the affected area, you can also chop or chew up a basil leaf and apply it to the bite for quick relief.
16. Calming Bath
Known to relieve anxiety, basil leaves or oil can be added to your bath – along with a cup or two of Epsom or Himalayan Pink Salt.
Its antiseptic properties will also keep your skin soft, supple and free from acne or other skin infections.
17. Ease Congestion
The age old remedy of steaming the face to relieve congestion has been used to enhance health for thousands of years – by Hippocrates, the father of medicine; by the ancient Romans; and by the native people of North America.
Add a little fresh or dried basil to your steam and you’ll be increasing its decongestant powers. The plant’s natural antihistamine and analgesic properties will have you feeling better within minutes.
18. Natural Body Deodorizer
With so many toxic chemicals in antiperspirants and deodorants, it’s wise to steer clear of them for both optimal health and the good of the environment.
That doesn’t mean you have to go around smelling like old gym socks though – there are plenty of natural ways to deal with body odor…and one of them is by eating more basil!
That’s right, herbs like basil, parsley, mint, sage and rosemary are all said to be natural body deodorizers. You’ll find more ways to reduce your body odor through diet and natural products here.
19. Lower Blood Pressure
In the US, one in three adults have high blood pressure, with the majority of cases believed to stem from poor diet.
Luckily for basil cultivators everywhere, extract of basil has been shown to lower blood pressure (albeit for brief periods). However, eating it regularly – along with these 21 other foods and drinks – may just make all the difference to your health.
20. Regulate Blood Sugar
Knowing how to maintain balanced blood sugar is one of the biggest keys to unlocking better health – and basil may just help you achieve this goal.
Basil (in particular Holy basil, an Asian variety that differs from the sweet basil typically used in Italian cooking) has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in both normal and diabetic laboratory animals, as well as in diabetic humans.
Learn more about balancing blood sugar levels naturally.
If you planted basil edible edges or propagated your basil from cuttings like I did this year, no doubt you have a boatload of basil to contend with. Having a ton of one specific crop can be overwhelming, but basil is such a versatile herb that can be integrated into so many different recipes that you will be grateful to have a lot of it once you learn what to do with it all. Here are some of my favorite fresh basil recipes that go beyond the norm and help that basil last throughout the year.
Usually, the first thing people think of to make with fresh basil is pesto. Make a big batch without the cheese and store in the freezer in small jars. When you want to eat the pesto, thaw just enough to use, add the cheese in, and it’s like you have garden-fresh pesto all winter long.
- For a basic traditional pesto, I like Jamie Oliver’s Pesto Recipe.
- Basil-Almond Pesto is also a nice change from the original.
- Given the price of pine nuts these days, I make Basil-Walnut Pesto my regular go-to recipe because it has a rich nutty flavor without breaking the bank.
Besides making up big batches of pesto to freeze, there are a few other ways to preserve basil for the winter months.
- Dry clean, trimmed basil by layering it onto the shelves of a food dehydrator. Leave lots of space between leaves and check often to ensure they don’t over dry. Store dried herbs in a sealed jar for up to a year.
- Freeze chopped basil mixed with water in ice cube trays. Transfer frozen cubes to a freezer bag to store. Thaw a cube when needed for a recipe. I like this because an ice cube makes it easy to thaw a small amount of basil at a time, so you can just thaw what you are going to use and leave the rest frozen.
Using fresh basil to spice up condiments is one of my favorite ways to eat it.
- Make basil mayo by finely chopping a handful of basil and a teeny bit of garlic, then mix it with 1/4 cup of mayonnaise. This is beautiful on salmon burgers.
- Make basil butter the same way as the mayo, but skip the garlic and replace the mayo with butter. Cook your morning eggs with basil butter and you’ll never want them another way again.
- To make basil oil, blanch two handfuls of basil by dropping it into boiling water for 5 seconds, then immediately into ice water. Squeeze out water, then add it and a cup of olive oil into a blender. Puree, then strain until all that remains is a beautiful bright green oil. Perfect for drizzling over some grilled white fish.
- Make basil vinegar by packing basil, peppercorns, and garlic into a jar topped with apple cider vinegar. Let infuse for 2 weeks before using as an ingredient in a fabulous vinaigrette.
- Make Basil Aioli Dipping Sauce by pulsing basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and anchovy paste in a food processor, then folding the mixture into some mayo. I would love this with some panko-crusted shrimp or even a steamed artichoke.
Fresh basil is always a welcome addition to salads.
- Caprese salad is a perfect go-to recipe when you have an abundance of heirloom tomatoes. Slice and salt tomatoes, add some fresh mozzarella and full-size basil leaves, then drizzle with a great olive oil. You can layer it on a plate, spike it on a bamboo skewer, or pack it into a mason jar for a Caprese Salad To Go.
- This Watermelon and Basil Salad looks interesting, and since the instructions are simple enough it’s worth a try in my books. Basil pairs well with melon and other sweet fruits.
- I love the balance of this Cucumber, Tomato and Basil Salad. Cool cucumbers and sweet basil translate to a very refreshing side dish.
- Try a twist on the classic with this Basil Cesar Salad that makes a perfect lunch with the addition of hearty croutons
Basil’s sweetness and mild anise flavor also make it a wonderful addition to desserts and cocktails.
- This basil pineapple spritzer has a completely unique flavor as the two ingredients come from completely different worlds! Tropical pineapple and Mediterranean basil are a surprisingly perfect pair.
- If you haven’t yet tried basil ice cream, what are you waiting for?! It’s delicious. It has the exact flavor you would expect: basily, sweet, creamy. Delightful. Top a small scoop with some dark chocolate sauce and you will have your dinner guests licking their bowls (seriously, it happened).
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Why Basil Is So Good for You—Plus 14 Ways to Use More of It All Summer Long
“The most useful thing one can know about basil,” writes Marcella Hazan in her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, “is that the less it cooks, the better it is, and that its fragrance is never more seductive than when it is raw.”
In the summer, the floral bouquet of basil is ubiquitous: in the garden; at the farmers’ market; even at the supermarket. It’s as pretty as a bunch of flowers this time of year, too, with a voluptuous heft and verdant leaves you just don’t see in winter.
It’s also quite good for you. As Kara Lydon, RD, intuitive eating counselor and blogger, emailed Health, “Basil can help boost the antioxidants in your meals. … contains one of the highest levels of the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants, also known as carotenoids, help to fight off oxidative stress in your body and may protect against chronic disease.”
So you’ve got plenty of reasons to use every leaf on the bunch. Happily, there are plenty of ideas out there for how to do that. Here are a few of our favorites.
Make big bunches of pesto, and freeze any you can’t use up before it goes bad in ice cube trays, with a layer of olive oil on top. Swirl pesto into pastas, on to soups, into risotto, and on top of baked salmon.
The dreamiest of things to plunk on a steak, pork tenderloin, or grilled chicken, compound butter is as easy as combining room-temperature butter, chopped dry basil leaves, salt and pepper. Roll the mixture up in a layer of wax paper inside another layer of aluminum foil, as you would with extra cookie dough. Refrigerate until cold, and slice off rounds of green-flecked butter over the coming weeks. (It freezes well, too!)
RELATED: 29 Healthy Tomato Recipes
If you’ve never folded fresh herbs into your salads, let today be the day. Fresh leaves of basil are a delight in salads, even beyond the classic Caprese. Mustard, lemon, vinegar, and shallot-based dressings all take kindly to a handful of basil leaves folded in with the other greens. You can even make a mixed-herb salad, as chef Jenn Louis suggests in her cookbook The Book of Greens. Serve it alongside roast salmon, and dress it with oil and vinegar if you wish.
Though you generally don’t want to overdo it with basil—as is true of mint, it bruises somewhat easily, which changes its flavor—you can fold it into cocktails and mocktails. Muddle it lightly for a strawberry spritzer. Add a sprig of it to lemonade. Remember that it can go in sweet and savory directions.
Take the idea one step further, as the authors of Canal House Cooks Every Day do, and make a rich simple syrup by combining two parts sugar to one part water. As it cools, add a few sprigs of basil. Once cool, strain out the herb. Use your basil simple syrup in iced teas, cocktails, or basil-strawberry lemonade.
RELATED: How to Make 4 Classic Summer Cocktails (Including the World’s Best Margarita)
Remember that a bunch of basil tucked into the cavity of a chicken right before you roast it perfumes the whole bird. Same with fish you wrap in parchment; why not add basil?
If you’ve never had basil ice cream or gelato, you are missing out. Think about it: cream and basil. Luxe and floral. You can see how it could work so well, and there are plenty of recipes out there to help get you there.
Another Jenn Louis idea is to add basil to fruit crisps. Strawberries are famously basil-friendly, but so are peaches, plums, nectarines, and blueberries.
RELATED: 8 Fresh and Fruity Summer Dessert Recipes
Add basil leaves to pan bagnat, France’s famous sandwich of tuna, red onions, tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs. Tuck whole leaves into chicken-avocado or egg salad sandwiches. Jonathan Waxman’s book A Great American Home suggests combining roast eggplant, peppers, and zucchini with pesto for a sandwich. Most savory meats—especially Italian ones—are excellent foils for the herb, so feel free to experiment.
If you haven’t had a turkey sandwich with homemade basil mayonnaise—simply chopped basil, salt and pepper swirled into mayo—I’d argue you haven’t really had a turkey sandwich.
Italian salsa verde (distinct from Mexico’s version) can be as simple as parsley, basil, red pepper flakes, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper all spun together and used to top any meat or fish. But we’re particularly taken with this version, which Waxman uses to shellac the famous roast chicken at his New York City restaurant Barbuto.
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Basil is a member of the mint family, so when you’re making Thai and Vietnamese food, keep it in mind—especially when you don’t have the mint the recipe calls for. Though bai horapa, “Thai basil,” is more typical, and has a more pronounced anise flavor, the more commonly available sweet basil works nicely in most of these dishes. In her book Favorite Recipes from Melissa Clark’s Kitchen, Melissa Clark calls for basil in her coconut fish stew with lemongrass as well as her Thai-style ground turkey with chiles and basil.
Snipped fresh basil leaves on top of a pie are the real difference between homemade and takeout. Make every pizza gorgeous—particularly so if you can locate opal basil, with its knockout purple leaves.
Pasta or potato salad
Fold basil into your pasta and potato salads of choice, and notice how much it brightens up the flavor. These oil and mayonnaise salads can be overwhelming without citrus and herbs to add fresh notes, so try to do both.
Alex Van Buren is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen
Most closely associated with Mediterranean cooking but also very prevalent in Asian food, the herb basil has a sweet, strong aroma and flavour. There are three main Mediterranean types: sweet, with large green leaves; Greek, with smaller leaves and a peppery undertone; and purple, whose dark leaves have a milder flavour.
Asian varieties include lemon basil, which has a citrus note and smaller leaves; Thai, like sweet basil, but stronger; and holy basil, spicy and intense, and unusual in that it’s best when cooked, rather than raw.
All year round, but grows best during July and August. Save on packaging by buying a pot from your garden centre or supermarket – it will live quite happily on a sunny windowsill.
Choose the best
It’s available freeze-dried, in sunflower oil or dried, but the best to use is fresh; either cut or potted.
Pick fresh basil leaves from their stalks and scatter whole, or roughly torn, over dishes.
Fresh cut basil should be wrapped in damp kitchen paper, placed in a perforated bag and stored in the fridge – it will last a day or two. Potted basil should be kept in a sunny but sheltered place (a windowsill is ideal) and watered regularly (but not too much, as that will dilute the flavour). As you pick leaves from it, more will grow, and the plant should last several months.
Try rocket or parsley.
Basil is considered the herb of summer. If you have ever eaten pesto, you have eaten basil. Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a popular herb in France and Italy. A member of the mint family, basil has a floral aroma, similar to anise and cloves, and is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. You often find it inside and on top of Mediterranean dishes. There is also Thai Basil, which has a much stronger anise scent and is used in many Asian dishes. The leaves are smaller than those of Sweet Basil. It is believed that it is best to tear basil leaves rather than chop them as the metal from the knife can alter the taste. You can buy basil in dried form, but it is best when fresh. The most commonly known pairing of basil is with tomatoes, but here are other foods that go well with basil along with recipe ideas and links.
Tomatoes are the most classic pairing with basil. Perhaps one of the most well-known dishes with basil is the Caprese salad. In this salad, basil leaves are layered over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese and lightly drizzled with olive oil. By using vegan mozzarella, like this Moxarella Cheese, you can easily make a vegan Caprese salad.
Top any tomato dish with torn leaves of basil like in this Pasta with Vegan Bolognese Sauce, this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle and White Bean Salad and this Zucchini Spaghetti with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil. Add basil to this Quick and Rich Tomato Soup for a classic dish. Of course, basil is a perfect topping for pizza. Check out these 27 Vegan Pizzas that Will Blow Your Mind.
2. Olive Oil
As in the Caprese salad described above, basil pairs well with olive oil. A good way to use basil is to infuse your favorite olive oil with it. To make basil oil, finely chop 1 ½ cups of fresh basil leaves. Add the basil and 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil to a small saucepan and heat it over medium-high heat for 30 minutes. Strain the oil into a jar with an air-tight lid. Keep the basil oil in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. For more techniques, read How to Infuse Your Own Olive Oil with Herbs and Spices.
Another way to pair basil and olive oil is to fry the basil leaves. You can deep-fry the basil but that isn’t necessary as pan-frying will give you crisp basil leaves with much less oil. Heat 1 cup of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add fresh basil leaves, 3 at a time, and fry for 20-25 seconds, or until crisp. Remove the basil with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with more basil leaves. These make a wonderful garnish for any dish.
Along with olive oil, basil is often paired with garlic to make pesto. Pesto is a sauce made with basil, olive oil, garlic, some type of nuts such as pine nuts or walnuts and sometimes lemon and Parmesan cheese, all blended into a thick, green paste. There are many variations on the pesto recipe. My recipe involves walnuts and vegan Parmesan. For the basics, read How to Make Pesto without Cheese and then enjoy your pesto in dishes like this Vegan Pesto Lasagna, Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto, and Pistachio Artichoke Pesto Quinoa. Use your pesto on pizza to make this Fresh Summer Vegan Pesto Pizza.
4. Balsamic Vinegar
Basil paired with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic makes a savory, delicious vinaigrette that is perfect on salads, pasta and veggies. Combine ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, 2 Tbs. minced garlic, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbs. vegan parmesan in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a paste. Slowly blend in up to ½ cup olive oil until you have your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For a lighter version, use 2 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar mixed with ½ cup lemon juice, orange juice or a combination of both. Add ¼ cup fresh chopped basil, 2 minced garlic cloves and 2 tsp. agave nectar. Whisk in up to ½ cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
An amazing way to enjoy balsamic vinegar with basil is to macerate strawberries with them. In a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of sliced or halved strawberries, 2 Tbs. sugar and 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar. Toss it all together and let the strawberries sit at room temperature until they release their juices, about 30 minutes. You want them softer but not mushy. When serving, garnish the berries with 10 thinly sliced basil leaves. Eat as is or serve the berries inside sweet crepes or over pound cake, ice cream or waffles.
Strawberries aren’t the only fruit that pairs well with basil. Basil also goes well with fruit like watermelon, lime, lemon, oranges, mango and other stone fruits. You can simply slice fruit, sprinkle a bit of sugar and grated ginger over them and garnish with torn basil leaves. Combine pineapple and basil to make these Cool Pineapple-Basil Pops or go bananas with this Green Strawberry Basil Banana Smoothie. Make a Raw Fruit Tartlet and add some finely chopped basil to the mix.
Fruits don’t have to just mean dessert. Basil pairs well with watermelon in this spicy and savory Watermelon Gazpacho and this Watermelon Gazpacho with Beet Noodles. Make a refreshing Watermelon Basil Salad by combining 6 cups of watermelon cubes, one sliced small red onion, 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice, ½ cup finely sliced fresh basil, ¼ cup finely sliced fresh mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired and top with Vegan Almond Feta for a delicious salad.
Since basil is part of the mint family, it makes sense that basil and mint go well together. You can add a combination of the two herbs in any recipe that uses mint such as this Raw Kiwi Tart with Ginger, Mint and Coconut. Mix basil and mint in pesto and vinaigrettes.
This combination is an incredible way to flavor vegetables like zucchini. I like to make Sauteed Zucchini and Yellow Squash with basil and mint. Saute 2 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the garlic is fragrant, add 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash cut into coins and cook over medium-high heat until they are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in ¼ cup chopped fresh basil and ¼ cup chopped fresh mint. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is a simple but flavorful dish. Other herbs that pair well with basil are cilantro, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
Speaking of zucchini, you definitely want to make these Zucchini Fritters with Lemon Basil Cashew Cream. Basil and lemon pair well together and add a bright, refreshing taste to any dish. Spice up this Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi by adding ½ cup chopped fresh basil and 1 Tbs. of minced jalapeno peppers to the lemon-garlic sauce. For dessert, cool off with a Lemon Basil Granita.
Zest 3 lemons and reserve the zest. Juice 5 lemons and add the juice, ¾ sugar and ¾ cups water to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then remove from the heat. Add ½ cup torn basil leaves and the lemon zest to the saucepan and let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid to remove any pieces. Add 1 ½ cups of cold water and pour the mixture into an 8-inch baking dish. Cover and freeze for 5 to 6 hours. Every hour, scrape the ice with a fork to break it into granules. Serve the granita in chilled bowls and garnish each with a fresh basil leaf.
Speaking of lemon and basil, there is a type of basil that is called Lemon basil. It is also called Thai lemon basil and Lao basil. Lemon basil is used in Indonesian and Thai cuisine. Thai basil is stronger than Sweet basil and harder to find but when you do find it, be sure to use it in an eggplant dish. Eggplant and Thai basil are a delicious pairing as in this Stir-Fried Basil with Tofu and Eggplant dish and my Thai Green Curry Eggplant with Basil.
Heat 1 Tbs. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs. minced ginger and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Let cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add 1 large eggplant cut into cubes to the pan and toss to coat with the oil. Let cook about 7 minutes, until the eggplant is browned and softened. Add 1 large diced onion and mix with the eggplant. Let cook another 4 minutes until softened. Add 2 ½ Tbs. green curry paste and 1 cup coconut milk to the skillet. Mix well until the paste is dissolved and all the vegetables are coated with the sauce. Add 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar and 3 Tbs. tamari to the pan. Sprinkle 2 Tbs. brown sugar over the vegetables and mix to combine. Let cook until the sauce is hot. Turn off the heat, add 2 Tbs. lime juice and 20 chopped Thai basil leaves and toss. Serve while hot. Read How to Amp Up Your Cooking with Thai Basil for more ways to use this herb.
Besides eggplant, zucchini and squash, basil pairs well with artichokes, mushrooms, and green vegetables including salad greens. Tear basil into shreds or roughly chop it and add to a salad with mixed greens, romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, frisee or watercress. Add basil to soup like my Italian Roasted Eggplant Bisque and this Smoky Roasted Corn and Sweet Pepper Soup. Pair basil with spaghetti squash and enjoy this Spaghetti Squash with Basil and Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce.
My Ratatouille Stew is not only healthy, hearty and delicious, but it contains 12 foods that work well with basil. Count them with me: In a deep skillet or pot, heat 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 4 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in the oil until the garlic turns golden. Add 2 chopped bell peppers and 1 chopped onion to the pot. Let them cook for 4 minutes until they start to soften. Add 1 diced eggplant, 1 diced zucchini and 1 diced yellow squash to the pot. Let the vegetables cook for another 4 minutes. Mix in 2 Tbs. sliced green olives, 2 Tbs. capers, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium low, and cook the vegetables down, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant has softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add 3 cups diced tomatoes and with a wooden spoon, scrape up all the yummy bits on the bottom of the pot. Add 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley and 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, and heat through. The longer you let it cook, the deeper the flavor will get. Serve over pasta, brown rice, quinoa or millet. Top with vegan grated parmesan and torn basil leaves.
10. Peanut Butter
Last but not least, basil pairs well with peanut butter. People actually make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fresh basil leaves. Add basil to savory dishes that contain peanut butter like these Cold Rice Noodles with Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce. For dessert, have these Basil and Peanut Butter Cookies with Chili Coconut Ice Cream.
It’s easy to see that basil goes with a lot more than just Italian food. Try adding basil to any of your dishes just to add that bright, sweet flavor. Basil pairs well with so many foods, it tastes delicious in practically anything.
Lead Image Source: Zucchini Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil