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Basil is a herb, not a spice, but herbs are used like spices to add flavour to a meal. Herbs are usually the leaves of an edible plant while spices are the roots, bark, stems, flowers, seeds or fruit of a plant – often used dried and ground down. Herbs can be used fresh and chopped or torn into meals. You can also buy dried herbs for use in meals too.
Adding flavour to meals is important because no one wants to eat a bland meal, and it makes food much more enjoyable if it has a great taste. The problem we have these days is that the food manufacturers pack our foods full of artificial flavours when we have many amazing natural herbs and spices that can be used for flavouring foods instead. And with a little bit of knowledge you can use herbs easily in your day to day cooking.
Check out the below frequently asked questions about using basil so you’ll know when to use basil, and when you can use fresh basil vs dried basil. If you’re keen to learn about other herbs and spices check out the Spices category too – I’m adding a new herb or spice each month.
Frequently Asked Questions about Basil
Q: Where can I buy fresh basil?
A: From supermarkets, green grocers (fruit and veg stores), farmers markets or buy a pot and grow some on the kitchen window ledge or on your balcony. Herbs are fairly easy to grow and are low maintenance.
Q: Is it okay to use the tubes of fresh herbs sold in the supermarkets?
A: Of course! Just be aware that they are usually more expensive and can contain additives to keep them fresher for longer. They are very convenient however and do take up less space in the fridge.
Q: Where do I buy dried basil?
A: Supermarkets, spice stores, fruit and veg shops, or anywhere that sells spices. You can also dry fresh basil for use later from the fresh basil you buy or grow.
Q: Can you replace fresh basil for dried in a recipe, or vice versa?
A: Yes! Usually you can add extra dried basil, especially the older it is as open packets of herbs and spices lose the strength of their flavour the longer they are open. Using both fresh and dried interchangeably will still make your meals taste good, and you can experiment with how much of each you like – keeping in mind fresher is usually stronger in flavour. Add the fresh basil at the end of cooking, whereas you can add the dried basil earlier.
Q: What are the advantages of using dried basil?
A: A packet of dried basil takes less space than having to keep fresh herbs in a jar of water in the fridge. They are cheaper to buy and can be stored for longer. Dried basil is also convenient because if you change your mind on what you cook for dinner that night its easier to throw in some dried basil than take a trip to the store for some fresh basil.
Q: Doesn’t basil go well with tomatoes?
A: Yes! Tomatoes and basil are a marriage made in heaven, but basil does go well with other ingredients too. Basil and tomatoes are great in bruschetta, margherita pizza, napolitana pasta sauce, bolognaise sauce, and a caprese salad. See recipe ideas at the bottom of this post.
Q: What does basil go well with?
A: Basil goes well with:
- Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, rocket).
- Stone fruits (peaches, nectarines).
- Balsamic vinegar
- Soft cheeses (ricotta, cream cheese, mozzarella)
- Strawberries and raspberries.
Basil also combines well with chives, coriander, garlic, oregano, parsley and thyme.
Q: How do I use fresh basil in a recipe?
A: Cut or tear the leaves right before adding to the recipe near the end of cooking to release the most flavour. Pick the leaves close to the stem and use whole to garnish a dish (make it pretty when serving it).
Q: I’ve heard of Thai basil: Whats the difference between it and Italian basil?
A: Thai basil is a different variety of basil that grows in Asia, whereas the best known type of basil is synonymous with Italian cooking. Italian basil is sweeter while Thai basil has more of an aniseed (licorice) flavour that is great for using in stir-fries, curries and Asian salads. Thai basil goes well with Asian flavours like chilli, coriander, garlic, ginger and lemongrass.
Q:What can you substitute basil for if you don’t have any?
A: Because basil is great with thyme, oregano, parsley and rosemary you can substitute any of these flavours into Italian style meals. If you don’t have Thai basil you can use other aniseed flavours such as anise, star anise, fennel seeds, tarragon or chervil.
Basil pesto (or basil and other herb pesto). Like in this recipe (however this recipe gets you to make your own pasta, but use packet pasta if you don’t want to make the pasta).
And to give you more inspiration here’s 34 recipes using basil.
Question: What’s your favourite way to use basil? Are you an Italian food fan like me, or an Asian food lover and you might just try some Thai basil for something different?