It’s January, it’s grey, it’s snowing, it’s cold. You are making a comforting chicken soup. How can you spark up the flavor? Pop in 3 or 4 ice cubes filled with basil that you froze last summer—and remember the sun. Or it’s July, it’s hot, the idea of turning on the oven is daunting. Just go out to your garden, pluck a handful of basil leaves, throw some chicken tenders and veggies in the wok (or big skillet you stir fry in), add the whole basil leaves along with some garlic, onions and red pepper flakes. Instant dinner.
Basil is one of the most useful, easiest to grow herbs in the garden. If you have a good south to east facing window, you can even grow it indoors year round. You can root it in water, plant it in a pot, and propagate your own.
Here’s are two ways how:
If you are growing herbs yourself or have more than you need, try freezing some for later use. Here is a simple but effective way to accomplish this.
Basil has endless culinary uses. Tear up a few leaves in your salad for a flavor punch, layer it in your lasagna, pop it into your frittata or omelette, even muddle it in your cocktail.
Basil is an ancient herb. One variety (Tulsi) is sacred in Hinduism. Most varieties are green but some are purple. It’s full history is unknown, but many believe it was originally native to India. There are some indications of early use in China and it is known to have been used in Egypt in the processes of mummification.
Here are a couple of recipes using basil. Remember that if you are using fresh basil in a cooked dish, it should be added at the very end of cooking as the flavor is destroyed by high heat. You just want to heat it enough for it to wilt.
Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs with Basil and Coconut
2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, around 12
1 large white onion, peeled, quartered and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 mild green chilis, halved lengthwise then sliced
1-3 Jalapeño peppers (depending on how hot you want it) seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and either grated or finely minced
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 Tablespoon neutral oil (canola or sunflower)
2 cups plain unsweetened coconut milk (the kind that comes in a carton)
1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut, grated or flaked
1/2 cup packed basil leaves divided, snipped smaller with scissors toward the end of cooking .(This is easily done by inserting the open scissors down in the measuring cup and snipping to desired size.)
(By the way, chicken thighs are on sale this week at Safeway.)
Use a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker. Turn it on high and let pre-heat while you prepare vegetables.
In a large non-stick skillet, on low/medium heat, heat oil and sautée onion, green chili and hot chili. until vegetables soften and begin to caramelize. Add garlic, ginger, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes. Stir well and cook a few seconds. Set aside.
Place chicken thighs in slow cooker, stacking or overlapping if necessary. Add sautéd, spiced vegetables, spreading over chicken. Add coconut and coconut milk. Stir a little to distribute spices and coconut.
Cook in slow cooker for 3 1/2 hours on high or 6 hours on low, or until done. Stir once during cooking if convenient. You can hold on warm for 1/2 hour if necessary.
Remove chicken pieces to serving platter. Skim extra fat off juices in slow cooker. Measure remaining liquid and reserve.
In a saucepan make a roux. You will need 1 Tablespoon fat and 1 Tablespoon flour for each cup of liquid. For the fat you can use what you skim from the cooker or coconut oil or butter. Heat the fat for a couple minutes until flour sprinkled into it sizzles. Then add all fat and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until flour gets a little color. Begin to add the reserved juices from the cooker slowly, whisking continuously. Taste for salt, adding second teaspoon or more to taste. After the gravy thickens add 1/2 of the snipped basil leaves. If you feel the mixture is too thick, thin with a little coconut milk added only a little at a time.
Pour the gravy over the chicken, sprinkle with the remaining basil leaves. Serve over rice or riced cauliflower. Garnish with additional dried coconut ( only a little) and small sprigs of basil. Tuck a few basil tips around the edge of the platter.
Quinoa and Basil Salad with Fresh Sprouts
If you would like to use fresh sprouts or microgreens in your salads, you can buy them from the Farmer’s Market or grow your own. Here’s how to grow them. Sunflower is my favorite!
1/2 cup quinoa (any color)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, basil infused if available
3 green onions, sliced in half lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise, white and green parts
2 cups fresh or cooked vegetables cut in 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch dice (see directions for suggestions)
1/2 cup cooked black beans or red lentils
1/4 cup quartered black olives, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup fresh sprouts (optional, for this use clip only top 2 inches)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves torn or snipped into smallish pieces (about 1/2 inch)
1 teaspoon salt
Cook quinoa according to package directions, making sure it is fluffy and quite dry. Drain off any excess water and cool on paper towels if it ends up too wet.
Place cooled quinoa in medium bowl and toss with 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Either proceed immediately to make salad, or keep refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Prepare your vegetables. Try to make fairly uniform 1/2 inch sized pieces, but don't obsess. If you have left over cooked vegetables, use some of those—peas, broccoli stems, dices carrots etc. Fresh vegetables might include thinly sliced celery, shredded carrots, jicama or tiny whole tomatoes.
Place vegetables in bowl with quinoa, add green onions, beans or lentils, sprouts (if using), olives and basil leaves. Mix well. Garnish with olives and basil leaves.
Serve with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, for eaters to add to their taste.
Of course there are many other classic basil recipes. Here are a few you might like.
Pasta with Basil Pesto
A good looking Stir Fry
This looks good and easy!
Mongolian Chicken anyone?