It may be synonymous with Italian food today, but basil was first cultivated in Africa and Asia. In fact, the herb is prominent in many Thai curries and stir-fries, and pho, the iconic soup of Vietnam, is never served without a bunch of basil on the side. It is best added at the very end of cooking (off the heat) to prevent the volatile oils from breaking down and losing flavor.
Peak Basil Season: June to August
How to select: Look for deep green, unwilted leaves that are fragrant and free of brown spots.
Price range: $1 to $3 per small bunch
Keep it fresh: Trim stem ends and loosely wrap basil in a damp paper towel. Seal in a zip-top bag and refrigerate no more than 2 days in either the crisper or fridge door (basil leaves wilt quickly). Wash and dry just before using.
Pairs well with: Tomatoes (obviously!), eggplant, corn, peaches, strawberries, mint, parsley, bell peppers, mozzarella
Creative uses: Make a composed salad with sliced tomato, peaches, fresh mozzarella and basil. Sprinkle over grilled veggies like corn and eggplant. Add to sandwiches.
Nutrition highlights: Basil has a unique mix of flavonoids including orientin and vicenin, which protect cells and chromosomes from oxygen-based damage. Eugenol, a component of basil’s volatile oils, inhibits inflammatory activity in the body, possibly relieving symptoms of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.