Thursday, August 29, 2013

Worldly Basil: Expand Your Ocimum

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

We're always thrilled when "Father Esau" swings by with some of his fresh local  herbs. Esau calls both NH and Jamaica "home" and grows some of of the Co-op's most creative local produce at M&E Farm in Northwood. Sometimes he brings us hibiscus or nutmeg from Jamaica, but often it's a weird species of onion or delicious (and otherwise very hard to find) fresh Thai basil. And this got me thinking... so few people know what to do with any basil that's not the traditional Genovese. I'm half Sicilian, I love Italian basil. But there's a world (literally!) of other varieties, species, and flavors out there, and they grow just fine here in NH. So, let's take a gander and wake up your taste buds...

Thai Basil (a variety of Ocimum basilicum) is popular throughout Southeast Asia and is a critical secret ingredient for soups, stir fries, and other dishes. While you *could* use "regular" basil as a stand-in, Thai basil infuses special magic into your dish with its hint of sweet spice and cinnamon. Thai basil has smaller, tender leaves, purple stems, purple flowers, and vivid green leaves. It's often confused with cinnamon basil in garden centers, but Thai basil is a more tender, smaller plant, whereas cinnamon basil grows more robustly (so much so it's good in flower arrangements and infused in ice cream) and has a sharper cinnamon flavor and scent. Personally, I prefer the Thai. Here are two recipe variations on a theme: Thai Basil Stir Fry. One is more authentically Thai, and the other is more NH-harvest-themed. Maybe you even want to grow your own this year?? :)

Thai Basil Fried Rice with Chicken
Thai basil is hard to find in stores, but it’s a crucial ingredient. It’s great to grow in the garden. Otherwise, look for it fresh in Asian markets. If you don’t have pre-cooked chicken, you can cook it with the onions. Leftovers are good for breakfast, heated in the skillet with some oil and a new egg scrambled in.
  • 1-2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Canola oil
  • Onion, sliced in long, thin strips
  • Hot and medium-hot peppers, sliced thin
  • Vegetables of choice, sliced thin: green beans, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, red/yellow/green peppers…
  • Jasmine rice, cooked, cold
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 4 eggs, beaten
Cooked chicken, in small pieces (of course, you could used seared tofu as a substitute)
Heat pan on high, add oil, fry basil leaves. Remove leaves.
Sauté onions, chicken (if uncooked), vegetables, then garlic until slightly cooked. Meanwhile combine the oyster, fish, and soy sauce. Add one tablespoon of the sauce and some sugar to the vegetables and remove from the pan. Add more oil and fry the rice. When nearly done, add the chicken, Thai basil, and the rest of the sauce. Make a well in the rice and add the eggs, scramble into the rice. Shut off the heat. Add the rest of the sugar to the rice, then stir in the vegetables.

Spicy Sausage & Wild Rice Stir Fry with Thai Basil & Veggies
For a more traditional Harvest Rice dish, omit the 5 Spice and replace Thai basil with oregano (fresh or dry) and/or sage. Add sautéed mushrooms, white beans, and/or lentils (with or without meat). Add finely chopped Genovese basil, and chives and crumbled feta near the end.
  • Olive or other cooking oil
  • 1 package hot Italian sausage
  • Lots of Thai basil leaves, divided
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 broccoli crown, sliced into long, thin florettes
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into quartered rounds
  • 1 bunch green beans, trimmed
  • 1 or more jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary needles
  • Cooked, cold wild rice blend
  • Optional/to taste dry spices: salt, black pepper, Chinese 5 Spice, fennel seeds, red pepper or cayenne, coriander

In a large wok, cast iron, or fry pan heat just a little oil over medium heat, sizzle a handful of Thai basil leaves for 30 seconds, then add the ground sausage. Brown meat and cook through. Remove and set aside. Add more oil to the pan, sautee onions and fennel until translucent and slightly brown, add carrots and continue to sautee until tender and slightly browned. Add a few Thai basil leaves, sprinkle with seasonings as desired and cook 30 seconds more. Remove and set aside with meat. Add more oil, sauté broccoli, zucchini, and green beans until brightly colored and almost tender-crisp. Add hot peppers, rosemary, more Thai basil, seasonings. Cook for a minute more, remove and set aside with the rest. Add more oil, fry the rest of the basil leaves (keep a couple for garnish) for 30 seconds, then add and fry rice until slightly golden. Add the removed ingredients back to the pan, stir together. Taste, add seasonings as desired. Remove from heat and serve.

Purple Basil encompasses a handful of varieties of basil that grow with a deep purple hue. Use them just like traditional basil for some extra color and pop for a dish. Purple basil dries more nicely and is more flavorful than Genovese basil, but it's not recommended for pesto (unless gray-purple pesto is your thing). When infused in a good quality white vinegar, it makes a gorgeous and delicious magenta vinegar. (How do you make an herbal vinegar? So easy! Basically, shove the chopped herb in a jar, cover with vinegar, put on a PLASTIC cap, shake regularly, and strain out after 2-4 weeks. It should keep in the pantry for 1-2 years.)

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), sometimes called Tulsi or Sacred Basil, is highly aromatic and planted around the temples of India. The flavor is quite different from culinary basils, with hints of cinnamon, mint, clove, and bubble gum. It makes a divine tea and medicinal remedy for stress, relaxation, energy, blood sugar balance, immune health, and more. I grow about a dozen plants each year for personal use, but you can also find this herb in the Co-op's supplement department as well as in the line of Organic India Tulsi Teas in grocery.

Learn more about growing and using Thai and Holy Basil here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Corn! Glorious Corn!

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Once upon a time, I only liked a handful of vegetables, and corn on the cob was at the top of the list. Even though my taste buds have expanded to include a kaleidoscope of veggies, fresh-picked corn still holds a special place in my culinary repertoire. Though much maligned (and tinkered with), good corn is a fantastic whole food, locally obtainable carb to accompany your summer meals. Here are some ways to expand your use of this seasonal gem...

The Classic

Instead of drowning your corn on the cob in water and boiling it to death, try steaming it in just an inch or two of water. It saves time - you'll go from cold water to perfect corn in just about 10 minutes - and your corn is more apt to come out perfectly crisp.  I have my resourceful Aunt Suki to thank for this tip. It's always best to use corn picked that day; it gets starchier as time goes on. Whether you're making one or two dozen ears, this technique works perfectly. I like my corn on the cob rubbed with pastured butter and ample salt, but you can certainly experiment. South of the border, a squeeze of lime is popular. I often steam veggies right in with the corn - cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and kale are all favorites in our house - and serve it alongside a grilled or pan-fried veggie burger, steak, or fish (or, when I'm starving and weak, an all-natural hot dog). Dinner is ready in just 15 minutes! Sit down on the back porch table, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the last of summer's beautiful nights.

The Sauté

This adapts as well to breakfast as it does to dinner or lunch. Simply husk the corn from the cob (you can freeze the cobs for later use in soup stocks), and saute the kernels over medium heat with olive oil in a skillet. Toss in whatever is on hand or floats your boat: onions, beans, leftover meat, greens, zucchini, herbs, eggs, canned salmon, cheese... This is another super fast dish. Here's one of my favorite breakfast blends to get you started. This recipe is great with fresh corn, but it's still great if your corn is a few days old (or even pre-cooked, if you were over-eager in your corn count at the weekend's BBQ).

Herbed Corn Breakfast
Serves one, but easily multiplied.
  • 1 ear of corn, shucked
  • Small diced shallot 
  • 2 tablespoons beans
  • 3 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 tablespoon cheese (cheddar, motz, goat cheese... whatever you like)
  • 1 handful herbs: basil, bee balm blossoms, oregano, tarragon, chives
  • Bed of lettuce
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add oil and toss corn and shallot. After 1-2 minutes, toss again and add beans. Meanwhile, mix the egg in a bowl with cheese, half the herbs, and some salt and pepper. As the corn mix begins to get golden, add salt, pepper, tomatoes, and the rest of the herbs. After about 30 seconds, add the egg, and scramble it until the egg is cooked through. Remove from heat and serve on a bed of lettuce.

Those Leftover Cobs

As the summer nights get cooler, chowders enter our dinner repertoire, with leftovers making their way into lunch box thermoses. Use your leftover husked corn cobs to simmer into soup stock for 30 minutes or more. It gives a pleasant corn flavor to the soup.

Healthier Fish Chowder
Most chowder enthusiasts insist that it must be made with tons of heavy cream and consist of no more vegetables than potatoes, onions, and maybe corn. This chowder breaks many of those rules but still has a great, creamy flavor that classic chowder fans enjoy. You can easily add or substitute chopped clams or skip the seafood all together. This recipe makes 1 to 1 1/2 gallons. It keeps about a week in the fridge and freezes ok.
  • 4-6 ears of corn, separated into cobs and kernels (or leftover cobs plus 1 bag frozen corn)
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped small
  • 2-6 tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 colored bell peppers (not green), chopped
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 2 medium white potatoes, cubed
  • 2 bags of frozen corn, carrots, and peas mix
  • 2-3 pounds of white fish fillets
  • Salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, paprika, dried dill weed, and celery seed powder to taste.
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 to 2 cups of heavy cream.
  • 1 to 1.5 quarts of whole milk
Simmer corn cobs (without the kernels) for 30 minutes four cups of salted water. Meanwhile, saute onions in butter/olive oil until mostly cooked. Then add garlic, bell peppers. Sauté a little more. Remove the corn cobs from the water, add your sauteed mix plus the potatoes, sweet potatoes, spices. Add more water if needed, but only just barely cover the vegetables. Simmer until vegetables are cooked, about 20 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and the white fish fillets. Bring back to a gentle simmer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water, stir until well-mixed, then pour into soup pot. Let simmer until cornstarch sets. Stir in milk and cream. Check spices and add more if necessary.

What's YOUR favorite corn recipe? Let us know in the comments section of this blog!