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Cooking Healthy with Basil

The World's Healthiest Food, basil is probably the most popular and versatile fresh herb used today in cooking. Even those who typically rely on dried herbs seem to gravitate to fresh basil. The increasing popularity of Mediterranean cooking has brought attention to this flavorful herb, which is finding its way into many dishes across the U.S. We're finally catching up to other parts of the world where basil has been highly valued for centuries. In India, basil is the icon of hospitality; in Italy, it is considered the symbol of love.

Basil supports health on many levels. Its volatile oils have been utilized as a health-promoting essential oil for centuries, and it makes a flavorful infused tea, in addition to its nutritional and flavor-enhancing properties when used as food. In fact, this unassuming herb has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties while stimulating digestion. Just goes to show you can't underestimate the power of "simple" foods and herbs. When you think you are merely enjoying the sweet, pungent flavor basil adds to your dish, this herb goes to work giving your body extraordinary support for its health and well being. The many benefits of basil outlined in our nutritional profile will surprise you.

Because I love Mediterranean food so much, I use a lot of basil in my cooking, and in many of our quick and easy recipes for you. I've also been mixing it with other herbs, such as cilantro and mint, for a fresh-tasting combination that greatly enhances some Mexican and Thai-flavored dishes. No matter which cuisine, however, I make a point of adding basil toward the end of cooking, so its essence and flavor are retained. In fact, I do this with most fresh herbs; they are best added at the end, when they sit for just a minute or two and infuse the food with their flavors. Add them sooner, and their beneficial volatile oils escape into the air.

Select basil with vibrantly green leaves; avoid any with brown spots. When you get home, wrap basil in a damp paper towel and put it on the top shelf of your refrigerator. The vegetable bin is too cool for this herb and will promote spoilage. On your refrigerator's warmer top shelf, basil should keep for about 5 days. If you're having one of those weeks when you may not have a chance to use it all, chop it, put it in ice cube trays, cover with water or broth and freeze. It will be all ready to enhance your next soup, stew or stir fry.

Here are a few recipes from our "Good Tasting Healthy Recipes." that will give you a variety of ways to enjoy this exceptional herb.