How to use lemon basil

Dear Lynne,
 
Lemon basil smelled divine, so I bought a big bunch at the market. Now what do I do with it?
 
-Nan

Dear Nan,

This is an easy herb to fall for with that fragrance of sweet lemon. For those who've maybe overlooked it at farmers markets and Asian groceries, the leaves are bright green, narrow, pointed ovals and the fragrance is distinctly lemon with a lot of sweetness in the background. Once it has chilled for a day or two, the lemon aroma starts fading away.

Cooks in Laos use this basil a lot in curries, soups and stir-fries. It seems to be added at the end of cooking, probably to protect that fresh-but-fragile flavor and aroma. Thai and Indonesian cooks use it in similar ways.

Along with lemon basil, there's the anise-scented Thai basil with purple stems and pink flowers. Here are a few things you can do with lemon basil:

  • Stir-Fry with Lemon BasilTry adding a big handful of the whole leaves to a favorite stir-fry just before you take it out of the pan. The basil sets off spicy dishes, pork, seafood and most vegetables. 
  • Lemon Basil-Infused Grilled ChickenButterfly a chicken, rub it all over with crushed garlic, ginger and oil if you'd like. Then cover the bottom of a shallow dish with half of your big bunch of lemon basil. Spread the chicken over it and cover the bird with more basil, saving about 1 cup of leaves for the chicken glaze. Rub the basil into the bird's surface. Lightly cover and refrigerate overnight. To cook, slow roast on the grill or in the oven. During the last 30 minutes, glaze the chicken by brushing with a pureé of 1 cup basil leaves, 3 tablespoons sugar, a seeded and minced Thai chile, the juice of a lemon and 1/3 cup canola oil.
  • Lemon Basil Snap BeansAll through the summer and fall we eat these with our fingers with drinks. The simplicity is belying; the beans showcase the basil brilliantly. Boil yellow "green" beans in salted water until tender (just beyond tender-crisp). Drain and rinse with cold water to stop their cooking. Turn the beans into bowl and keep them at room temperature up to 3 hours. When you're ready to eat, toss the beans with a generous amount of coarse salt and 1 cup of lemon basil leaves for every 1/2 pound of beans. Enjoy them at room temperature.

-Lynne

 

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