Tag Archives: Basil

Spicy sweet basil chicken

Sweet basil chicken is a big go-to of mine in Thai restaurants. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s fragrant, and it nestles oh-so-nicely over a pile of jasmine rice. Plus, because it’s stir-fried to order, I’ve now started asking for it without garlic or onions, which makes it lower in FODMAPs and easier to digest.

Until recently, I never would have thought to make Thai sweet basil chicken at home. But it’s turned into a staple dish in our household. As with so many stir-fries, it’s easily customizable–add or subtract vegetables you like, and dial the spiciness up or down as you prefer. Plus, unlike the no-garlic-please restaurant version, you can use tricks like garlic oil and scallion tops to restore some of that familiar allium spike.

I make no claims to authenticity here. Bringing this into my American kitchen–and adapting it to be low-FODMAP–means I’ve had to make a few tweaks and tucks to the recipe. It’s not an exact match for the restaurant version, and it’s not trying to be. But it is a darned tasty stir-fry, and much easier on my digestive system than the stuff in the takeout box.

Here’s the first bit of sacrilege: you don’t have to use Thai basil. Oh, you should, if you can find it–the sweet, licorice-y aroma will get the dish closest to what you’d find in an American Thai restaurant. But Italian sweet basil from the grocery store is just as delicious, and often much easier to find. If you’re forever buying a bunch of basil just to use a few leaves, then this is the recipe for you. Just toss in the rest of the leaves, and watch as the wok swallows them up.

thai basil chicken 1

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Zucchini-basil soup

It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.

So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.

If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.

Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.

zucchini basil soup 1

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Peach basil cobbler

Okay, I’m starting this post with another photo disclaimer: It’s awful. It’s an awful photo. I’m sorry. But it was after dark, in a crowded kitchen, and I could only manage one photo before the whole thing was devoured by a dozen hungry friends.

I said devoured. This was peach cobbler, and it was profoundly delicious. It started with the best possible fruit–we were at my friend Sarah’s house, and she has a peach tree, and we found a few furry globes hiding under the leaves, just waiting to be picked and devoured. Sarah has a basil plant too, so I decided to pinch a few leaves and add them to the filling. It’s a lovely combination, peaches and basil: the basil is sweet, in its own way, and sharply grassy against the yielding sugary tartness of the peaches. Cover the whole thing with crumbles of biscuit dough, and you’ve got a sophisticated twist on a homey classic.

There’s one optional step here: it’s up to you whether or not to peel the peaches. It’s not totally onerous, but it does require a little extra maneuvering. The peaches get X-slashed at the bottom, then blanched in boiling water and shocked in an ice bath. After their trip from hot to cold, the peach skins slip off effortlessly, like a satin robe. I don’t mind the extra work, personally, since it feels more like performing a magic trick than cooking. But the whole process is totally optional, if you don’t mind bits of skin in your filling. And, of course, if you wanted to skip the bother and make this any time of year, you could easily use frozen thawed peaches instead.

Please. Ignore the photo. Instead, imagine a heap of peach basil cobbler on a plate, still warm from the oven, with a scoop of slowly-melting vanilla ice cream on top. Not much that’s better than that.

peach basil cobbler

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Seared lamb salad with basil-mint vinaigrette

Here’s something a little different for St. Paddy’s Day: a winter-to-spring lamb salad with a bright green vinaigrette.

It’s finally getting to that sigh-of-relief point in the year when salads start to seem viable again. Not the light-and-crunchy summer kind of salad, but something a little sturdier, with a good thick dressing. I went to the farmer’s market for the first time in a while on Sunday, and found a gorgeous mix of baby rainbow chard and dinosaur kale and some prickly leaves I couldn’t identify. I’d recently watched a Nigella Express clip about lamb salad, and the combination of warm meat and just-wilted winter greens seemed mighty appealing. (I suspect this would work just as nicely with arugula or spinach or watercress, or in fact any mix of good fresh salad greens.)

The lamb itself was simple. Salt, pepper, hot pan, sear. I tried to do a mustard-crust thing on the chops, but it didn’t turn out well, so I’m going to declare it unnecessary. I’m also not the most competent meat cook, so I ended up pulling the lamb from the pan while it was too raw and having to re-cook it later. That’s a mistake I don’t recommend making. What I do recommend, though, is letting the meat sit in a loose foil packet for a few minutes when it comes out of the pan, to let the juices re-settle throughout the meat. It makes for a much more succulent final product.

For the dressing, I used a recipe I picked up in an online comment forum: a blended basil vinaigrette, thick and tangy and appealingly pesto-like. I’ve made this dressing before, as a pasta sauce, but it was especially welcome against the gamy-sweet lamb and crunchy greens. I used a mix of basil and mint here, but it could easily be done with just basil or just mint. It’s a little more involved than your average vinaigrette: first you blanch the herbs to lock in their bright green color, then blend them with garlic and shallot and vinegar, before streaming in just enough oil to make a thick paste. You could add an egg yolk too, for a richer and more unctuous dressing, almost like a thin Hollandaise. With egg or without, though, this vinaigrette stands on its own: it’s the perfect texture for pasta, and would also make a stellar sauce for simply cooked chicken or fish. Make it for this salad, and then make it again. It will reward you.

Oh, and of course, we ate our salad with Irish soda bread. I am nothing if not consistent.

lamb salad with basil mint dressing

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The unbearable lightness of food

Well, not unbearable.  In fact, pretty damn appealing.

Fact is, there are days when I feel compelled to do fancy things with food.  And then there are days when it’s ungodly hot outside, and I’m staring down the Workweek from Hell, and standing over the stove with an elaborate plan and a spatula sounds like torture.

Guess which kind of day I’ve been having lately?

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The power of a dollop

It’s such a shameful cliche to say it’s all in the details. But cliches achieve their status for a reason: they’re most often true.

Back in college, I took pride in my lack of detail-orientedness. (Detail-orientation?) I was practically detail-averse. I’m an artist, I said. I don’t have brain-space for such things. But somewhere in the transition to the working world, something happened. I became…organized. I began obsessing over minutiae. I started color-coding things.

Well, maybe organized isn’t the right word. My bedroom floor is still blanketed with clothing, and my desk at work is shingled willy-nilly with paper. And truth is, I’ve always been a perfectionist of the highest order; I just didn’t always know which details to tweak to catapult my projects ever-closer to perfection. But now I’m figuring these things out. I’m zeroing in on the little things. I’m learning.

Which brings me to pesto.

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