My husband’s cousin, Geetha, recently visited us in Texas during her recent trip from Calicut, Kerala. She is such a delightful and kind person that we hit it off right away. If she had stayed with us longer, I’m certain that we would have had a lot of fun at our nearby stores and restaurants. Our husbands would have walked away from us while shaking their heads in dismay while the bills piled up. She reminds me of another of my husband’s cousins, Padmini, with whom I have spent delightful hours shopping at outlet malls and sampling chocolate chip cookies at open houses.
One evening Geetha commented on a vase of fresh basil stems that I was using as casual decoration on my kitchen counter. She recognized it instantly and proceeded to share her knowledge of the plant. She informed me that it is originally native to India and has grown there for thousands of years. The most sacred herb in India, it is used in religious ceremonies as well as in Indian cooking. In the U.S. we are familiar with several of the more than 100 different varieties of this fragrant herb, including sweet basil used in pesto and sauces, but the uses in India are much more fascinating. Basil is available in three varieties in India:
- Rama tulsi, the most common sweet basil, is found in many recipes across Europe and the U.S. with its oval leaves, green stems and white flowers.
- Krishna tulsi is a different variety of basil that has purple flowers, veins and stems. It plays an important role in Hinduism and is used during poojas (prayers) to Lord Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. Devout followers grow these plants at home. This herb is often called holy basil since it is thought to have grown at the site of Jesus’s cross. It also has many medicinal uses from treating the common cold to reducing pain and blood pressure.
- Wild tulsi is a large plant with gray-green leaves and a strong flavor.
Basil is a key part of Ayurvedic medicine and is used to fight stress, promote purity, cleanse the body of toxins and aid metabolism. It is high in antioxidants.
Indian cooking incorporates basil in many ways. Several different recipes for tea are available for curative as well as for a decaffeinated treat. It is used to make chutney and dishes such as Tulsi chicken. Since the flavor of the basil is so delicate, it must be added during the last step to preserve its flavor. Basil seeds are used in flavoring a unique Indian treat, falooda ice cream, as they become gelatinous when soaked in water.
Last week, I published my Chicken with Basil Curry recipe that I am certain you and your family will love!
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