016: Basil

Basil is one of the basic herbs of no offense to anybody. At least I would dang hope so! It’s really versatile, goes with most ingredients, and people who don’t like it are missing the hell out. For this meal, I picked up Thai basil, “field basil,” which is just normal-style basil, and opal basil, a nicely purple cultivar.

Menu (serves 3)
Strawberry, Basil, and Dragonfruit Salad
Zucchini-Basil Soup
Drunken Noodles
Basil Tiramisu

Basil Tiramisu
The longer you let this sit in the fridge, the better. You could make this the day before, or just the morning of.
-1 package lady fingers
-1 cup strong cold coffee
-8 oz mascarpone
-3 egg yolks
-3 egg whites
-1 cup Thai basil
-4T rum
-5T sugar
-1t lemon juice
-cocoa powder

Put the basil, 1T sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor. Chop it as finely as possible, adding a little liquid if necessary. Separate the eggs. Just crack them all in a bowl and pull the yolks out with your hand, they’re stronger than you think.

Beast it
Mix the yolks, 2T sugar, 2T rum, mascarpone, and basil puree to a smooth custard. Beat the whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer. When it reaches soft peaks, sprinkle a bit of sugar in and continue beating. When you can turn the bowl upside down without dumping it all over the table, scrape the whites into the cheese mixture. Fold the liquid over the whites. Don’t just mush the whites in, or you may flatten them out. Keep spooning the liquid over, gently turning the whites and getting them incorporated. Eventually it’ll all be the same thick custard.

Mix the coffee, 2T sugar, and 2T rum. Get a baking dish ready. I used an 8×8 glass pan.
Dunk the ladyfingers, turning them over to get both sides. You don’t need to do it for very long; while the cookies will start out really hard, they absorb liquid quickly. Lay them down in the pan in a layer. When you’ve got a full layer, spread about half of the custard on top. Repeat, setting the next layer of ladyfingers down softly so as to not crush the custard down.
Chill for at least 4 hours. Dust each serving with cocoa powder, and garnish with a basil leaf.

Zucchini-Basil Soup
-2 lb zucchini
-1 onion
-3 cloves garlic
-1/4c olive oil
-3c water
-2c loosely packed basil

Skin and chop the zucchini. Chop the onion, mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Saute the garlic and onion. When it’s soft, add the zucchini. Get a little color on it, then add the 3 cups of water. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, along with the basil. Season with salt and pepper to bring the basil’s flavor out.

Strawberry, Basil, and Dragonfruit Salad
-1 basket strawberries
-1c Thai basil
-1/2c basil
-1 dragonfruit
-1 lime
-balsamic vinegar
-olive oil

Very simple: Hull and quarter the strawberries. Peel the dragonfruit by cutting the sides off to make a rectangle. Halve the fruit lengthwise, and cut thinly. Pull the basil off the stem. Make a simple salad dressing with lime, balsamic, and olive oil. 2 parts oil to 1 part acid, but you don’t have to be precise about it. Dress the salad, and that’s it.

Drunken Noodles
-8-10 oz rice noodles
-1/2lb chicken
-1T fish sauce
-3T soy sauce
-2T Chinese chili paste
-1/2c Thai basil
-2T peanuts
-2 serrano chilis
-1 tomato
-1 medium eggplant
-3 cloves garlic
-2 eggs
-2 limes

Cut the eggplant and chicken into bite-sized pieces. Mince the garlic, slice the peppers thin. Cut the tomato into eighths. Crack the eggs into a bowl and scramble them.
Start a pot of water boiling. Cook the noodles in 2 batches, stirring frequently, until the noodles are al dente. Remove the finished noodles to a strainer, and toss with sesame oil to keep them from sticking.

Heat 2T canola oil in a large pan or wok. Throw the garlic and chilis in, let them cook for a moment, then add the chicken and eggplant. When the eggplant is browned, add the sauces. Toss to coat, then add the egg, peanuts, and noodles. Stir it all up, add the chili paste and basil, squeeze a lime in, and stir again. Serve with a lime slice.


Mostly good. Let’s run through the menu –

Salad: Pretty nice! The dressing was an obvious pairing with the basil and strawberries, but it worked perfectly. The dragonfruit was a last-minute addition. I picked one up with some other ingredients cause I wanted to eat it, but I really have no idea how to choose a good one. It was mostly flavorless, just a little sour. I decided that at worst, it would be dead weight in the salad. But, it was actually good! Dragonfruit has a fun texture, and it basically just absorbed the dressing. I think that if I’d gotten a good one, it would have worked as well. It’s a lot like kiwi, which pairs with strawberry, obviously, and in my mind at least, works with the dressing. The basil was distinct, but pleasant. You could taste the difference between the two types. I kind of forgot about the opal basil until it came time to garnish dishes — I would have liked to have it in the salad. Overall, it was good, but felt a little harsh in some respects. Less dressing probably would have helped. I enjoyed the plating, which, as you might be able to tell from the photo, was a rough bar striping across the plate.
Soup: Excellent. The zucchini gave a lot of body to the soup. It was creamy, and a little thick, and the basil was right there. It tasted like an overly-creamy pesto, which is totally fine with me. This soup is perfectly healthy, incredibly cheap, easy, and delicious. Make this one as soon as possible! The opal basil also was a perfect garnish. The soup looked really, really great.
Noodles: I’ve never had much luck with stir-frying noodles. I do it sometimes, and I often like the result, but it’s always sticky and not at all like noodles from a restaurant. The rice noodles were hard to gauge, necessitating a second boil. That wasn’t a big deal. Neither was the fact that it all kind of stuck together and wasn’t noodly. The main problem was the lack of basil. I knew from the beginning that it would be a problem, and I just had a vague idea in my head that I would throw more basil in? It didn’t work. It just tasted like badly-done drunken noodles. On the upside, they were nicely spiced, and the eggplant was well-cooked. I don’t know what I should have done to make this more basil-y; probably just make a different dish. I always try to avoid doing the obvious heritage dish for the ingredients I choose, but maybe I should have made a pesto and just put some thought into how I would make it more unique.
Also, the plating was terrible.
Tiramisu: Also excellent. Basil is, although unique, not a crazy assertive ingredient. Putting it into the custard for the tiramisu gave the dish a greener flavor, somewhat fresher and lighter. It made the dessert taste healthier, though it wasn’t. I enjoyed it a lot. However, the leftovers, which are usually much better than “fresh”, had more of an herbal note to them that I didn’t enjoy so much. I think a solid concept, well-executed, and pretty tasty. I would’ve liked the cookies to be more soaked. The bottom was a little dry; I guess my cookie layer was too tight. I don’t like that I used opal basil to garnish two different dishes, but it did look good on both.

So, the low point of the menu was the noodles. I wasn’t crazy about the salad, but it was alright and it at least looked interesting. I think I liked the soup best. I enjoy things that taste like they have to be really bad for you but are actually good/neutral. Like YaYa’s herb popcorn! It’s just dusted with herbs and spices and some salt but it tastes like it’s covered in ramen soup base.
In the end, three out of four isn’t bad. I’ve done much worse. And maybe next week, I will!

Next Week: Mango

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