How to Make the Most of Basil Season

Nobody puts basil in the corner! Summer's herb is the perfect partner for way more than tomatoes.
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fresh basil plant

Varieties

  • Thai Basil (top): Intense and anise-scented, this bold basil works well in curries.
  • Purple Basil (middle): The eye-catching color makes this mild variety great for garnish.
  • Lemon Basil (bottom): This natural mutation of red raspberries is especially sweet.
lemon thai and purple basil

Basil Basics

Buy: Sweet basil is what most of us just think of as “basil”—the gently spicy variety that’s traditional in pestos and caprese salads. If your market sells the potted version, snatch it up. For the same price as sprigs in a plastic clamshell, you’ll get a plant that you can harvest for months!

Store: Treat basil like cut flowers: Pop stems into a jar of water on your counter—not in the fridge (the cold can cause the leaves to wilt). Your bouquet will last for at least a week. To preserve a bumper crop, make dried basil by microwaving leaves between paper towels for 1 to 2 minutes.

Prep: To neatly slice, roll leaves into a tight “cigar” and cut crosswise. Or add whole leaves to salads, sauces, stir-fries, etc.!

basil pineapple ice pops

Try These Recipe Ideas!

Basil pineapple ice pops

In a blender, blend 3 cups pineapple juice and 1 cup basil leaves until finely chopped; skim off foam. Halve 5 pineapple rings (canned or fresh). Place 1 pineapple half into each cup of an ice-pop mold; fill with basil-pineapple mixture. Insert sticks and freeze. Makes 10.

Thai chicken basil bites

In a nonstick skillet, cook 8 oz. ground chicken, 2 chopped scallions and 1 chopped clove garlic in 1 tsp. oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until chicken is cooked, about 5 minutes. Add 4 tsp. fresh lime juice, 2 tsp. fish sauce and 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper; season. Spoon into large basil leaves. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Grilled corn with basil butter

In a food processor, puree 1 stick room-temperature butter, 1/4 cup basil leaves, 1 small shallot, chopped, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard and 1/2 tsp. lemon zest; season. Spread on grilled corn. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Salad Days

Think outside the box of baby kale and try basil as salad greens instead. Toss leaves with sliced peaches and crumbled goat cheese and dress with lemon juice and olive oil for a summer side that’s super refreshing.

illustration of basil leaf in bathtub

4 Fun Facts About Basil

1. Free Flavor

You can grow your own plant from just a four-inch sprig. Set the stem in water and change the water every few days. When the roots have grown to two inches long (about three weeks), pot it in soil.

2. Twice as Nice

Most herbs lose flavor when cooked, but basil’s taste intensifies when its oils are released by moderate heat. To maximize a dish’s basilness, use some at the start of cooking, then garnish with some fresh leaves, too.

3. A Greener Clean

Scientists in Turkey found that basil oil helps kill germs like salmonella and E. coli that can cause food poisoning. Bring that grime-fighting power home by making a DIY kitchen cleanser with 10 drops of basil essential oil and 1/2 cup each of white vinegar and water. Buh-bye, bacteria!

4. Lights! Camera! Pesto!

In Nora Ephron’s classic (and food-obsessed) 1989 rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, the title couple’s besties, Jess and Marie, bond over their shared belief that “Pesto is the quiche of the ’80s.”

billy crystal meg ryan when harry met sally