’B’ is for Basil by Nazia Hussain

***image1***I can’t remember how I came across Basil but I love using it in my cooking and it is one of my favourite herbs. I use it a lot especially in dishes that are tomato based, or for that matter in simple dishes like omelettes and other egg based preparations. It is said that in France, it is used to flavour soups, especially turtle soup and is also used in ragouts and sauces. In England it was used as a pot-herb in the olden days and in the famous ‘Fetter Lane’ sausage.

Traditionally, the herb has been used in cooking as flavouring. However, it is also used for medicinal purposes, occasionally for helping with mild nervous disorders and rheumatic pain. The dried leaves are also said to be a cure for nervous headaches. It can also be infused in boiling water and is said to be good for all obstructions of the internal organs, and stops vomiting and nausea.

***image2***As a plant it is know for its rich, spicy and mild peppery flavour. It is part of the mint plant family which is why it has a hint of mint and clove flavour in it. There are over 40 known varieties of basil including some very unusual ones which have flavours including cinnamon, lemon and anise. The most common type of basil is the Sweet Basil also known as ‘Ocimum Basilicum’ (the Greek term meaning ‘to be fragrant’. The fragrant oils can decrease if too much fertiliser is used!! It grows best in warm tropical climates such as in Asia and India and is a perennial plant. In terms of cuisine, it is a herb that is traditionally used in Italian, Mediterranean and Thai cooking.

Basil can also be preserved by freezing in ice cubes. I prefer to chop the herb and then I spread it out on a flat dish ready for the freezer. Once it has frozen a little bit, I scoop it up and put into little boxes or plastic bags and put into the freezer. This procedure allows the herb to remain separate rather than forming into frozen lumps.

Basil is most commonly known for being an important ingredient of Pesto and as such is well suited to garlic, vinegar, olive oil and pine nuts. I love pesto sauce and when I rarely eat pasta, I love creamy pesto sauce as an accompaniment. It is an extremely versatile herb and can be added to meat and poultry as well as fish, tomatoes, rice, cheese and eggs. It also adds a special something to vegetables (especially root vegetables) and to soups and sauces.


Interesting Facts

Basil is planted on graves in both Persia and Malaysia and Egyptian women are known for scatter basil leaves on the resting places of their loved ones.

However, in ancient Greece, basil represented hate and misfortune and they associated poverty with a ragged woman with basil beside her, believing that the plant would not grow unless it was abused at the time it was sowed. The Romans also believed that the more abuse poured on the plant, the more prosperous a person would become.

Those of the medical profession in the olden days had conflicting opinions, some saying that it was poisonous and others saying that it had some medicinal value and was precious.

In Moldavia, it was regarded as a symbol of love and any man that accepted a sprig of basil from a woman would be smitten by her love.

In Crete it symbolised ‘love washed with tears,’ and in some parts of Italy it is considered to be a love-token.

In Tudor days, little pots of Basil were often given as graceful compliments by farmers’ wives to visitors.



I don’t know how many of the above facts are true; they may be old wives tales, but then again, a lot of old wives tales start off as stories that have been carried down over the generations and there is probably an element of truth in all of them. I, for one, believe that it adds value to my cooking and I am happy with that.

Why don’t you try the recipe below: The apricots add sweetness to the chicken, and the spring onions, basil and vinegar add sharpness to the dish as well as a lovely aroma and flavour. I hope you enjoy preparing and eating it.

Recipe of the Month:

Tomato and Mushroom Pasta Sauce with Basil


1 large (400g) tin of chopped tomatoes

1/2 (half) cup loosely packed basil leaves

2 – 3 cloves garlic (crushed)

2 – 3 spring onions, chopped

1tbs olive oil/Fry Light Spray

1 cup of mushrooms (any variety, chopped roughly)

Salt and Pepper to taste


1. Finely chop the spring onions.

2. Heat the oil/fry light spray in a pan and then add the onions, garlic and chopped mushrooms to the oil. (I find adding the mushrooms to the onions and garlic rather than adding them later, provides a richer flavour to the sauce.)

3. Allow the onions and mushrooms to become soft and then add the chopped tomatoes.

4. Gently simmer the tomatoes for about 10-15 minutes and then add the salt and pepper.

5. Roughly chop the basil leaves and add to the tomatoes.

6. Allow the sauce to simmer for a further 2 minutes but not for too long and then take off the heat.

7. If the sauce is too thick, a little water/vegetable stock maybe added. If the sauce is too thin, a teaspoon of corn flour added to a little water can be used as a thickening agent. The thickness of the sauce is to personal taste so feel free to alter the consistency to suit your own palate.

Back next month with more from Naz ! If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me on noshbynaz@yahoo.co.uk . Feedback is always encouraged.

Bye for now.


Note: For those of you who are looking for low-fat, wheat-free and gluten-free pasta, MerlianNews recommends organic brown rice pasta which can be found in most health food stores. “Tinkyada” is a particular brand that maintains a good consistency — doesn’t get mushy, is cholesterol free, a good source of fiber and easy to digest.

For further information, please visit www.ricepasta.com, www.tinkyada.com or call 1-888-323-2388.

by Nazia Hussain
A business consultant by day and a passionate cook by night. Nazia is currently away from her home, London, seeking new international recipes for her column! This article first appeared on PS Magazine last month.