6 Common Varieties and Benefits of Basil- Dairy Free, Vegan Pesto Recipe
I always try to keep a plant of fresh basil on my kitchen counter. I love not only the flavor, but also the fragrant. Sometimes I’ll rub the leaves between my fingers, and I can feel the oils rub onto my skin. Civilizations around the world have used basil for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. I get so passionate when I find a food that is not only tasty, but also has healing abilities. Basil is known to help with managing inflammation in our bodies and help control blood sugar levels. Due to its amazing benefits and multi-use, I try to grow basil in my garden every Summer. And every year, when the season would come around, I’d long for a good dairy-free pesto, served with my gluten-free pasta salad. I finally decided to be brave and make my own. The Italian’s consider basil as the herb of love. So finish up your reading, and let’s get mixing some Pesto for this Valentine’s Day, and enjoy a serene candle light dinner at home, (we’re watching grand kids, FUN for sure, but not serene 😉 ).
Basil was first grown in India, and eventually made its way to the Mediterranean countries. Sweet basil is not the same as Tulsi ( Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum) which means holy basil. The botanical name of sweet basil is Ocimum bacilicum or as more commonly known as, Saint Joseph’s Wort. Both plants have variety of healing properties. There are dozens of different varieties and cultivars of basil. It can be really hard to tell the difference, unless you have done an extensive research and studied the variance of each plant properties. The basil plant looks similar to the mint plant, which is not strange, because they belong to the same plant family.There are six familiar varieties that I have come across at nurseries and gardens. These are the ones I have used and TRIED to grow in my garden. I’d love to hear your experiences with other varieties and types. I am constantly learning of new plants. And if its edible and smells good, then count me in.
Facts and varieties
- Sweet Basil. The most common one used in cooking and sold in stores. This is the variety I use for my pesto (most Italians do).
- Thai Sweet Basil. Looks different than the traditional variety. The flavor has a little kick to it, slight spicy. This plant has green leaves but dark purple flowers, it’s really pretty and offers variation and color in a herbal garden. Good to know if you decide to grow, that his plant can get over a foot tall.Thai basil is generally used in Asian cooking.
- Dark Opal Basil. This one is really pretty, with its deep purple color. One of the tallest basil varieties, that gets up to almost two feet tall. A bit spicy, making it ideal for garnish.
- Genovese Basil. This one, can easily be confused with the Sweet Basil. They taste and look similar, although the Genovese has stronger and robust flavor. The leaves are a bit darker in color, but work just as great for pesto.
- Lime Basil. With pretty white flowers, makes this an additional great choice for an alternative in your herb garden. The flavor is very mild, with a slight tangy citrus flavor. I like this variety for fish and vegetable dishes.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi). The King of all basil for its health benefits and rich history. Perfect as an herbal tea, to strengthen the immune system and help with gut health.
Studies show that Basil has high levels of antioxidant, which help protect our cells from damage. Another study show how basil can help regulate blood sugar levels, lower high cholesterol and blood pressure. Basil has many other benefits, such as help with respiratory and have anti-fungal properties. I know from personal experience that basil can help with digestion. There is research that show that basil can actually help with balancing the acid in the gut. I like to break off few leaves and eat them, especially after a big meal (I know, sometimes I wonder if my grand kids think grandma is totally weird 😉 ). Some find the basil essential oils to relief common colds, cough and fever. I like to add few drops of basil essential oil in my diffuser and inhale. Basil is known to help with calming the nervous system and energizing the mind.
Vitamins and Minerals
Basil is a superior source for Vitamin K. Half a cup of this fresh herb provides with nearly 100% of the daily need of this vitamin. Vitamin K is necessary for a healthy heart and bones.
Basil has excellent amounts of manganese, which is good for regulating glucose levels. This mineral is needed to help with absorbing calcium and breaking down fats and carbs. This can be very beneficial with preventing osteoporosis and diabetes.
Basil contains very good amounts of vitamin A, which helps with vision and support of the immune system.
The vitamin C that is contained in the basil leaves, can help to absorb the iron that is found in most animal products. This is really good to keep in mind, especially if a person is anemic.
There are good amounts of magnesium which can also alleviate depression and high blood pressure. Doctors will also recommend magnesium for chronic constipation.
Tips For Enjoying
Basil has a unique aroma and flavor. To maintain its attributes, I like to recommend this herb to be enjoyed fresh. If you like to add to a warm meal, add it at the end. Also basil tend to get a little dark on the ends of the leaves, if chopped or cut up. To avoid this, it is better to tear the leaves, and to do so right before serving. Tomatoes and basil are the perfect couple. The only sad story of my life is, that I can’t enjoy the two of them with a fresh chunk of mozzarella (no dairy for me 🙁 ). But, that doesn’t stop me from adding basil to pretty much any dish or salad I choose. Just tonight, I served my meat sauce with pasta. To make it even better, I used my fingers to tear up some basil leaves, drizzled some extra olive oil over my pasta dish and voila!! I though I was in Italy.
My Pesto Recipe
This recipe is real easy and simple enough that you might get into trouble (addicting). I can’t keep enough fresh basil on hand anymore. It’s amazing how much basil is needed for a somewhat of a small serving (you might think it’s big enough). I’m just excited to share this recipe to everyone who can’t have dairy. It’s totally vegan and I don’t need to tell you all the amazing health benefits. Anytime you combine olive oil, basil and garlic, you are pretty much eating the healthiest food in the world! My whole family (including the teenagers have given this pesto recipe a five star. I’d love to hear what you think?
As a side note, it cost me about $6 to make this recipe.
Maria’s Dairy Free, Vegan Pesto Recipe
Yield: About 1.5-2 Cups Prep Time: 5 min Total Time: 10 min
3 Cup Moderately Packed Sweet Basil (about 4 oz.)
1/2 Cup Pine Nuts
3 Large Garlic Cloves (Peeled and Cut in Halves)
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lime (Freshly Squeezed)
1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt (more or less – taste)
Remove all the big stems off your basil (I leave pretty much all the small, slender stems). Measure and add the basil, nuts, garlic, olive oil, lime juice and some salt. Blend/mix until all the ingredients are combined like a paste. It usually takes me about 1-2 minutes, all depends on your machine.
You’re pesto is ready to be mixed with your choice of dish or as a side.