Basil is considered the herb of summer. If you have ever eaten pesto, you have eaten basil. Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a popular herb in France and Italy. A member of the mint family, basil has a floral aroma, similar to anise and cloves, and is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. You often find it inside and on top of Mediterranean dishes. There is also Thai Basil, which has a much stronger anise scent and is used in many Asian dishes. The leaves are smaller than those of Sweet Basil. It is believed that it is best to tear basil leaves rather than chop them as the metal from the knife can alter the taste. You can buy basil in dried form, but it is best when fresh. The most commonly known pairing of basil is with tomatoes, but here are other foods that go well with basil along with recipe ideas and links.
Tomatoes are the most classic pairing with basil. Perhaps one of the most well-known dishes with basil is the Caprese salad. In this salad, basil leaves are layered over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese and lightly drizzled with olive oil. By using vegan mozzarella, like this Moxarella Cheese, you can easily make a vegan Caprese salad.
Top any tomato dish with torn leaves of basil like in this Pasta with Vegan Bolognese Sauce, this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle and White Bean Salad and this Zucchini Spaghetti with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil. Add basil to this Quick and Rich Tomato Soup for a classic dish. Of course, basil is a perfect topping for pizza. Check out these 27 Vegan Pizzas that Will Blow Your Mind.
2. Olive Oil
As in the Caprese salad described above, basil pairs well with olive oil. A good way to use basil is to infuse your favorite olive oil with it. To make basil oil, finely chop 1 ½ cups of fresh basil leaves. Add the basil and 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil to a small saucepan and heat it over medium-high heat for 30 minutes. Strain the oil into a jar with an air-tight lid. Keep the basil oil in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. For more techniques, read How to Infuse Your Own Olive Oil with Herbs and Spices.
Another way to pair basil and olive oil is to fry the basil leaves. You can deep-fry the basil but that isn’t necessary as pan-frying will give you crisp basil leaves with much less oil. Heat 1 cup of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add fresh basil leaves, 3 at a time, and fry for 20-25 seconds, or until crisp. Remove the basil with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with more basil leaves. These make a wonderful garnish for any dish.
Along with olive oil, basil is often paired with garlic to make pesto. Pesto is a sauce made with basil, olive oil, garlic, some type of nuts such as pine nuts or walnuts and sometimes lemon and Parmesan cheese, all blended into a thick, green paste. There are many variations on the pesto recipe. My recipe involves walnuts and vegan Parmesan. For the basics, read How to Make Pesto without Cheese and then enjoy your pesto in dishes like this Vegan Pesto Lasagna, Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto, and Pistachio Artichoke Pesto Quinoa. Use your pesto on pizza to make this Fresh Summer Vegan Pesto Pizza.
4. Balsamic Vinegar
Basil paired with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic makes a savory, delicious vinaigrette that is perfect on salads, pasta and veggies. Combine ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, 2 Tbs. minced garlic, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbs. vegan parmesan in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a paste. Slowly blend in up to ½ cup olive oil until you have your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For a lighter version, use 2 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar mixed with ½ cup lemon juice, orange juice or a combination of both. Add ¼ cup fresh chopped basil, 2 minced garlic cloves and 2 tsp. agave nectar. Whisk in up to ½ cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
An amazing way to enjoy balsamic vinegar with basil is to macerate strawberries with them. In a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of sliced or halved strawberries, 2 Tbs. sugar and 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar. Toss it all together and let the strawberries sit at room temperature until they release their juices, about 30 minutes. You want them softer but not mushy. When serving, garnish the berries with 10 thinly sliced basil leaves. Eat as is or serve the berries inside sweet crepes or over pound cake, ice cream or waffles.
Strawberries aren’t the only fruit that pairs well with basil. Basil also goes well with fruit like watermelon, lime, lemon, oranges, mango and other stone fruits. You can simply slice fruit, sprinkle a bit of sugar and grated ginger over them and garnish with torn basil leaves. Combine pineapple and basil to make these Cool Pineapple-Basil Pops or go bananas with this Green Strawberry Basil Banana Smoothie. Make a Raw Fruit Tartlet and add some finely chopped basil to the mix.
Fruits don’t have to just mean dessert. Basil pairs well with watermelon in this spicy and savory Watermelon Gazpacho and this Watermelon Gazpacho with Beet Noodles. Make a refreshing Watermelon Basil Salad by combining 6 cups of watermelon cubes, one sliced small red onion, 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice, ½ cup finely sliced fresh basil, ¼ cup finely sliced fresh mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired and top with Vegan Almond Feta for a delicious salad.
Since basil is part of the mint family, it makes sense that basil and mint go well together. You can add a combination of the two herbs in any recipe that uses mint such as this Raw Kiwi Tart with Ginger, Mint and Coconut. Mix basil and mint in pesto and vinaigrettes.
This combination is an incredible way to flavor vegetables like zucchini. I like to make Sauteed Zucchini and Yellow Squash with basil and mint. Saute 2 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the garlic is fragrant, add 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash cut into coins and cook over medium-high heat until they are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in ¼ cup chopped fresh basil and ¼ cup chopped fresh mint. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is a simple but flavorful dish. Other herbs that pair well with basil are cilantro, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
Speaking of zucchini, you definitely want to make these Zucchini Fritters with Lemon Basil Cashew Cream. Basil and lemon pair well together and add a bright, refreshing taste to any dish. Spice up this Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi by adding ½ cup chopped fresh basil and 1 Tbs. of minced jalapeno peppers to the lemon-garlic sauce. For dessert, cool off with a Lemon Basil Granita.
Zest 3 lemons and reserve the zest. Juice 5 lemons and add the juice, ¾ sugar and ¾ cups water to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then remove from the heat. Add ½ cup torn basil leaves and the lemon zest to the saucepan and let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid to remove any pieces. Add 1 ½ cups of cold water and pour the mixture into an 8-inch baking dish. Cover and freeze for 5 to 6 hours. Every hour, scrape the ice with a fork to break it into granules. Serve the granita in chilled bowls and garnish each with a fresh basil leaf.
Speaking of lemon and basil, there is a type of basil that is called Lemon basil. It is also called Thai lemon basil and Lao basil. Lemon basil is used in Indonesian and Thai cuisine. Thai basil is stronger than Sweet basil and harder to find but when you do find it, be sure to use it in an eggplant dish. Eggplant and Thai basil are a delicious pairing as in this Stir-Fried Basil with Tofu and Eggplant dish and my Thai Green Curry Eggplant with Basil.
Heat 1 Tbs. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs. minced ginger and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Let cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add 1 large eggplant cut into cubes to the pan and toss to coat with the oil. Let cook about 7 minutes, until the eggplant is browned and softened. Add 1 large diced onion and mix with the eggplant. Let cook another 4 minutes until softened. Add 2 ½ Tbs. green curry paste and 1 cup coconut milk to the skillet. Mix well until the paste is dissolved and all the vegetables are coated with the sauce. Add 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar and 3 Tbs. tamari to the pan. Sprinkle 2 Tbs. brown sugar over the vegetables and mix to combine. Let cook until the sauce is hot. Turn off the heat, add 2 Tbs. lime juice and 20 chopped Thai basil leaves and toss. Serve while hot. Read How to Amp Up Your Cooking with Thai Basil for more ways to use this herb.
Besides eggplant, zucchini and squash, basil pairs well with artichokes, mushrooms, and green vegetables including salad greens. Tear basil into shreds or roughly chop it and add to a salad with mixed greens, romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, frisee or watercress. Add basil to soup like my Italian Roasted Eggplant Bisque and this Smoky Roasted Corn and Sweet Pepper Soup. Pair basil with spaghetti squash and enjoy this Spaghetti Squash with Basil and Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce.
My Ratatouille Stew is not only healthy, hearty and delicious, but it contains 12 foods that work well with basil. Count them with me: In a deep skillet or pot, heat 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 4 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in the oil until the garlic turns golden. Add 2 chopped bell peppers and 1 chopped onion to the pot. Let them cook for 4 minutes until they start to soften. Add 1 diced eggplant, 1 diced zucchini and 1 diced yellow squash to the pot. Let the vegetables cook for another 4 minutes. Mix in 2 Tbs. sliced green olives, 2 Tbs. capers, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium low, and cook the vegetables down, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant has softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add 3 cups diced tomatoes and with a wooden spoon, scrape up all the yummy bits on the bottom of the pot. Add 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley and 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, and heat through. The longer you let it cook, the deeper the flavor will get. Serve over pasta, brown rice, quinoa or millet. Top with vegan grated parmesan and torn basil leaves.
10. Peanut Butter
Last but not least, basil pairs well with peanut butter. People actually make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fresh basil leaves. Add basil to savory dishes that contain peanut butter like these Cold Rice Noodles with Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce. For dessert, have these Basil and Peanut Butter Cookies with Chili Coconut Ice Cream.
It’s easy to see that basil goes with a lot more than just Italian food. Try adding basil to any of your dishes just to add that bright, sweet flavor. Basil pairs well with so many foods, it tastes delicious in practically anything.
Lead Image Source: Zucchini Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil