Basil of all varieties epitomizes summer for me. It’s persnickety about cold, so I start growing it in June when the weather warms, and between my garden and our CSA, we are harvesting it from June 21 to September 21, quite literally the summer season. I freeze basil pesto in little tubes to add to soups and braises throughout the rest of the year and I make a terrific jelly with lemon basil, which I promise to post as soon as I make another batch.
Because there are so many varieties, with differences in texture, color, flower habit and taste, basil is actually a very versatile addition to the summer repertoire. Of course, there’s the classic tomato and mozzarella salad with Genovese-type basil, as well as pasta and vegetables with basil pesto. But among my favorites are the dishes made with the varieties associated with Asian food: Thai basil of several types, cinnamon basil, holy basil, and so on. The aroma that rises from a few fresh leaves tossed into a hot stir fry is alluring and memorable and addictive.
Here, I made a Thai Basil Chicken dish, served with rice or with rice or bean thread noodles. This week I also made zucchini and noodles with Thai curry paste and coconut milk, again with the basil leaves tossed in to wilt and lend their wonderful flavor and aroma. Though it was maybe “gilding the lily,” I served the Thai Basil Chicken with a refreshing cucumber salad dressed with rice vinegar and sesame oil and garnished with slivers of Thai basil.
Thai Basil Chicken
½ or 1 whole boneless chicken breast
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce or wheat-free tamari
1 tbsp brown sugar (I used raw turbinado sugar)
2 shallots, slivered
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
½ small hot pepper such as jalapeno, minced
1 medium zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 c Thai basil leaves, including flowers but not stems
Place the chicken in the freezer for about ten minutes to make it firm enough to slice into thin strips. Cut into pieces about 1 x 2 x ¼ inches.
Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar and set aside.
Heat a little vegetable oil in a wide sauté pan large enough to hold all ingredients. Saute the chicken slowly until it turns white and is nearly cooked through. Remove to a plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan and add the shallots, garlic, hot pepper, zucchini and red bell pepper and stir fry for a few minutes until still crisp. Add the reserved sauce and cook for a few seconds. Add the chicken and stir to heat it. Add the Thai basil and let it wilt. Serve immediately with rice or rice noodles. (If it’s too dry you can add more fish sauce and soy sauce to taste.)