Ingredient of the Week: Thai Basil

A few weeks ago, we featured Genovese basil, a staple of Italian cuisine, as the Ingredient of the Week. This week, we're highlighting Thai basil, a key ingredient in not just Thai food but many other southeast Asian dishes.

What is it?

Native to southeast Asia, Thai basil has a distinct licorice, anise, or clove-like taste unlike that of its cousin, sweet basil. Thai basil has narrower leaves and a purple stem. Its flavor can also better withstand extended and higher cooking temperatures.

How do I use it?

Thai basil is best used in any Asian dish that calls for fresh basil leaves; it's essential in many dishes from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Pinch the fresh leaves into your noodle soups right before eating; or if you're stir-frying meats, vegetables and/or noodles, add it toward the middle or end of the cooking process. It is good with almost anything found in Southeast Asian cuisine: chicken, pork, shellfish, tofu, tamarind-based soups...the list is endless.

Only use the leaves; the stems can be bitter and overpowering. Also, make sure not to confuse Thai basil with sweet or Genovese basil. I've made both of these mistakes before and royally screwed up the outcome of a French soup.

Where can I find it?

Fresh Thai basil is found in the produce section of most grocery stores next to other herbs. Thai basil is also easy to cultivate--right now our garden is a jungle of the stuff. Rosemary is actually a good companion plant for Thai basil--they both like the same type of well-drained fertilizer. Like other basil, it also needs plenty of sunlight.

Recipe: Thai Basil Chicken Gai pad krapow, or basil chicken, is a classic Thai dish. Like many other Thai dishes, it combines the sweet, the salty, and the spicy into one symphony of delightful flavors. I even added some lemon juice--I couldn't bear to exclude the sour. Serve over white jasmine rice for a traditional meal. Or for a refreshing summer snack, wrap in iceberg lettuce leaves.

What do you do with your Thai basil?

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