My doorbell rang the other day, and there was my darling neighbor Keith, with a big bag of fresh basil, straight from his garden. It’s heavenly, heady with the warm fragrance of late summer. Since I’ve been busily using up my basil ever since, it seemed like a great thing to write about.
First, let’s talk nutrition. We think of herbs simply in terms of their value as seasonings, but basil is actually quite nutritious. (I might add that it’s not alone. Many herbs and spices are surprisingly good for us.)
A whole cup of fresh basil leaves has just 11 calories, and about 5 million metric boatloads of flavor. You’ll get 2 grams of carbohydrate, but it’s virtually all in the form of fiber. And you’ll get one gram of protein, but who eats herbs for the protein? You’ll also get 33% of your vitamin A, 13% of your vitamin C, 7% each of your folacin, calcium, and iron, 6% of your potassium, and 2% of your niacin and zinc.
According to Dr. Ray Sahelian, basil oil kills a wide variety of germs, and at least one study shows anti-tumor properties. Historically basil has been used to treat stomach upset and gas.
All herbs are best when fresh, and basil loses more flavor in the drying process than most. So how to use the current bounty of basil?
- Add whole or coarsely chopped basil leaves to a tossed green salad for incomparable flavor.
- Roll up several basil leaves, then slice across them thinly. Sprinkle your little basil shreds over thickly-sliced ripe summer tomatoes. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, to make the best possible use of both of these summer beauties. Add sliced fresh mozzarella to this to make a classic Italian Caprese salad.
- You can expand on a Caprese salad by adding sliced fresh peppers and thinly sliced sweet red onion. Add a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar, too. With the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, this makes a beautiful light supper for a sultry summer night.
- Gently bruise a couple of handfuls of fresh basil leaves and cover with olive oil. Let steep for a couple of days, then refrigerate. This basil infused oil is good for making salads, or drizzled over fish, chicken, or pasta dishes.
- Make pesto! It’s easy. Combine 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 4 peeled cloves of garlic, and 1 cup shelled walnuts or, more classically, pine nuts in your food processor with the S-blade in place. Pulse to chop coarsely. Now leave the motor running while you pour in 1 cup extra virgin olive oil. Turn off the motor, add 1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan (NOT the stuff in the green shaker!) and 1/4 cup freshly grated Romano. Pulse to blend. Salt and pepper lightly, and store in snap-top containers in the fridge or freezer, depending on how long you want it to keep. Great on vegetables, chicken, fish, in salads, or tossed with shirataki noodles.
- For an unusual and elegant summer dessert, try tossing balls or cubes of fresh cantaloupe with a drizzle of orange juice, Splenda or stevia to taste, and a tablespoon or two of finely minced fresh basil. If you can’t afford the carbs in even a drizzle of orange juice, use lemon juice and a few drops of orange extract, and add a little extra Splenda.
- Next time you grill a steak, make it an extra-big one. Then you can serve this cool and beautiful basil-spiked salad the next night! Better yet, make it ahead, to let the flavors marry.
Steak, Sundried Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Bulgur
- 1/2 large cauliflower, head
- 1/2 cup bulgur
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 8 ounces leftover grilled flank steak
- 1/2 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (jarred in water)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 cup diced red onion, diced small
Trim the bottom of the stem of your cauliflower, and cut off the leaves. Run it through the shredding blade of your food processor. Put the resulting “cauli-rice” into a microwaveable casserole with a lid, add a couple of tablespoons of water, cover, and nuke on “high” for 6 minutes. Uncover immediately.
Combine the bulgur and water in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, cover, turn the burner to the lowest possible heat, and let it cook for just a few minutes. Cool both the bulgur and the cauliflower before proceeding.
Chop your sun-dried tomatoes, dice your steak into bite-sized bits, cube your cheese, drain and dice your roasted red peppers, chop the fresh basil and dice the red onion. Throw all this stuff in a big salad bowl. Add the cauliflower and bulgur.
Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss with the saladuntil it’s all very well mixed. Serve on lettuce-lined plates.
4 servings, each with: 274 Calories; 17g Fat; 18g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 12 grams usable carbohydrate.
If you prefer, you can make this with an extra 1/4 head of cauliflower in place of the bulgur, for a lower calorie and carb count.
(Reprinted by permission from The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook, by Dana Carpender, 2006 Fair Winds Press.)
© 2010 by Dana Carpender. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.