Holy Basil Food bytes by Monish Gujral Sunday Standard The new Indian Express

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The taste of well-being

Monish Gujral Last Updated : 25 May 2012 11:10:17 AM IST
Is basil the same as the tulsi that grows in our garden? The mention of tulsi always brings to my mind the famous Indian movie Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. Holy basil or tulsi has a sacred place in Hinduism. Holy basil is also a herbal remedy for a lot of common ailments. I remember as a kid, my mother fussing over any symptoms of cold and instantly administering a dose of honey and holy basil concoction. It is a proven fact that the holy basil has many medicinal properties; the leaves are a nerve tonic, and it also sharpens memory.
I distinctly remember while on a trip to Italy with my parents while growing up, we ordered basil pesto pasta. I exclaimed with joy on reading that the pesto sauce had basil in it and told my mother that in the future she should spare me from honey and basil concoction in case of a cold. It was then my mother explained the difference between basil and tulsi.
Basil and holy basil are different, though both belong to the same mint family. There are more than 40 basil variations, including lemon, cinnamon and Thai basil. The leaves of holy basil are grey-green in colour, coarse to touch, and have ridged edges. Basil leaves are deep green and tend to be smooth with smooth edges. Both plants can grow more than two feet tall and two feet wide. The flower of the basil plant is generally white, while the flower of holy basil is lavender in colour. Holy basil can also have different colour stems, usually white or red.
Taste and aroma
Holy basil has a sweet fragrance, and basil has a spicy aroma. Both, holy basil and basil have sharp flavours when raw. All basil varieties have strong flavour and aroma, and leaves will bruise and emit scent easily. Since basil’s flavour can be overpowering, use it sparingly until you are sure you like the taste.
As of now let’s just focus on the divine pesto sauce. Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in northern Italy (pesto genovese) and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil leaves and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmigiano cheese. The name is the contracted past participle of the Genoese word pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle. The ancient Romans ate a paste called moretum, which was made by crushing cheese, garlic and herbs together. Basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, likely originated in North Africa; however, it was first domesticated in India. Basil took the firmest root in the regions of Liguria, Italy, Provence and France. The Ligurians around Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated hard cheese (a mix of parmigiano and pecorino), pine nuts with a little olive oil to form pesto. The first mention of pesto recipe was found in the book La Cuciniera Genovese, written in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto.
Because pesto is a generic term for anything that is made by pounding, there are various other pestos, some traditional, some modern. For this reason, the original (and most common) pesto is now called pesto alla genovese or pesto genovese (both forms are used in both English and Italian), in order to help differentiate the original basil based pesto from alternatives. Variations such as red pesto with red bell beepers and sun dried tomatoes or where the pine nuts are replaced by almonds, walnuts or cashew nuts and basil with mint leaves and olive oil by
cheaper oils.
As always human being are best in adapting a recipe to suit their palate based on local raw materials like in Singapore an Italian-Peranakan fusion version called laksa pesto is popular. The recipe has the flavour of the local curry noodle soup, laksa but is made using the pesto method. Vegan variations of pesto can include mixes of fresh basil, nuts such as walnut or pine nut, olive oil, and the addition of miso paste and nutritional yeast to provide additional flavor enhancement to the dish .
Ingredients and preparation
Pesto is traditionally prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. First garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then the washed and dried basil leaves are added with coarse salt and ground to a creamy consistency. Only then a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino is added. To help to incorporate the cheese, a little extra-virgin olive oil is added. In a tight jar, covered by a layer of extra-virgin olive oil, pesto can last in the refrigerator up to a week, and can also be frozen for later use.
Since, now we have the sauce, let’s see what wonders it can create in our kitchens. Pesto is commonly used with pasta and potatoes. Little green beans are also traditionally added to the dish, boiled in the same pot in which the pasta has been cooked. It is sometimes used in minestrone (is a thick soup of Italian origin) as well. I have used pesto with pasta, prawn, chicken and paneer tikka. Marinating grilled fish with pesto is another option.

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First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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