Seasonal Spotlight: Basil

For us, it wouldn't be summer without a bunch of fresh basil in the kitchen. We layer the fragrant leaves with sliced heirloom tomatoes, tear them into salads, or grind them into pesto. From sweet basil to lemon basil and Thai basil, we just can't get enough of this essential, intoxicating herb.

A member of the mint family, basil originated in India and spread throughout the world thousands of years ago, becoming an important ingredient in many Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisines. Different sources cite more than 60 or even 100 varieties of basil in existence today. Those grown in North America and Europe are sweeter in flavor, while Middle Eastern varieties tend to be more peppery. The best thing to do is just experiment and taste the different varieties to learn which aromas, flavors, and colors you enjoy with different ingredients.

Sweet or Genovese basil is the most common type in the US, and it is ideal for Italian dishes and pairing with tomatoes. Anise or Thai basil is more pungent and good for stir-fries, soups, and Southeast Asian salads. Lemon basil adds a citrusy aroma to pesto and fish dishes, while cinnamon or Mexican basil works well in desserts. Purple basil varieties are lovely additions to salads.

When shopping for fresh basil at the market, look for vibrant, aromatic leaves without any dark spots. Once home, wrap the leaves in a damp towel and store inside a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator. Alternatively, place the stems in a glass of water, cover the whole thing with a plastic bag, and keep in the refrigerator.

The Kitchn has featured dozens of basil tips and recipes over the years, and we've rounded them all up for you here.

Tips:
Good Question: What Turns Pesto Brown?
Good Question: When Can I Harvest My Basil?
How To Store Fresh Herbs
Quick Tip: Add Basil Last
Tip: Freezing Summer Basil

Recipes:
Savory
Basil Parmesan Pot Beans
Catfish with Lemon Basil Cream Sauce
Flatbreads with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions, and Basil
Insalata Caprese
Last Chance Basil Pesto
Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil
Mixed New Potato Salad with Sweet Basil and Shallots
Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers with Basil Oil
Tomato, Corn, and Basil Bean Burgers
Weekend Sandwich Recipe: Basil, Goat Cheese, and Artichoke Hearts

Sweet
Basil Infused Ginger and Cinnamon Ice Cream
Basil or Mint Sorbet
Coconut and Thai Basil Ice Cream
Janine's Blueberry Basil Ice Cream

Drinks
Spring and Summer Drinks: Cocktails with Basil
Even More Basil Cocktails: Strawberry, Lemon, and Vodka
Recipe: Pineapple Basil Cocktail
Recipe: Rhubarb Basil Cocktail

(Image: Emily Ho)

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