Summer’s favorite herb

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Photo by Keri White

In my tiny urban garden, I always allocate some prime real estate to herbs. This year, I have a big pot of basil.

In addition to delivering a delicious flavor to food, basil offers numerous health benefits. It contains antioxidants, serves as an anti-inflammatory, has anti-bacterial properties, supports liver function, detoxifies the body and some even consider it an aphrodisiac.


I can’t say for certain whether I am any healthier for consuming quantities of this seasonal herb, but I am enjoying the dishes it enhances. These four were particular highlights:

Summer berry and basil salad
The contrasting flavors and colors in this salad are wonderful. The sweetness of the berries complements the sharpness of the basil, and the balsamic dressing pulls the whole thing together. You can add salted nuts or crumbled goat or feta cheese if desired, but this splendid salad stands on its own.

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Serves 4

Ingredients
For the salad
1 package baby greens (spring mix, arugula or your favorite blend)
1½ cups fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries)
⅓ cup fresh basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons


For the dressing
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
¼ cup olive oil
1 pinch salt
Sprinkle of fresh ground pepper
Sprinkle of garlic powder

Directions
Place the greens, berries and basil in a salad bowl. Cook’s tip for cutting basil in ribbons: After rinsing the leaves, roll them up into little tubes, slice them into tiny rings, then separate them and sprinkle them over the salad.

In a cup, mix the dressing ingredients and stir briskly with a fork or small whisk until totally blended. Pour over the salad and toss well.

Basil parmesan biscuits
When the summer heat rises, the oven can be our enemy. But these cook for such a short time and are so delicious that the sacrifice is worth the trouble. Serve them with a frittata, a main dish salad or a chilled summer soup.

Makes 8 biscuits

Ingredients
4 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup buttermilk
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped basil

Directions
Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place the butter, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Beat the ingredients on low until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Add the buttermilk, mix again, then add the cheese and basil. The mixture should remain crumbly and not totally uniform.
Using spoons or your hands, shape the biscuits into rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Each biscuit should contain about ⅓ cup dough.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the biscuits are crisp on the outside and beginning to brown. Serve warm.

Basil tomato salsa
This twist on traditional salsa swings the flavor profile toward Italy. Use pita chips or crostini for dipping, or go fusion with tortilla chips. And if you have any left, this does double duty as a pasta sauce; just dump it over cooked pasta and toss to serve.

Ingredients
2 cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped finely
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper

Directions
Mix all the ingredients and allow them to sit for 30 to 90 minutes before serving to meld flavors.

Basil gimlet
Traditional gimlets call for gin, but I prefer vodka. Substitute rum and you’ve got a daiquiri — just be sure to use fresh lime juice.

Makes 1 cocktail

Ingredients
2 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup (see note)
2 basil leaves (one for muddling, one for garnish)

Directions
Place one basil leaf in the bottom of a cocktail shaker and crush it with the back of a spoon or muddler.

Add the ice, gin/vodka, lime juice and syrup. Shake well.

Strain into a serving glass and top it with a basil leaf. Serve immediately.

To make simple syrup, place equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar melts.

Keri White is a Philadelphia food writer.

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