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In Halfway to Dinner, we show you how to stretch your staples—or your seasonal produce—every which way.
At this time of year, basil is everywhere, spilling out of our herb gardens and into our kitchens. But did you know that basil leaves do not like to be refrigerated? You may have noticed that when you store the herb into the refrigerator its leaves quickly turn black. The best way to extend the life of your basil is to treat it like you would a bouquet of flowers.
Snip off the ends, pop it in a vase, and fill it so that the bottom of the stems are covered with about an inch of water. Then place the bouquet on your counter or on a windowsill that does not get direct sunlight (The Kitchn also recommends covering your bunch loosely with a plastic bag).
The basil leaves should stay fresh for about a week—just long enough to work your way through these five basil recipes:
1. Chilled Cream of Basil Soup with Corn and a Cucumber Salad
Use up the bulk of your basil at the beginning of the week, when your bunch is freshest. This creamy, dairy-free, and raw soup calls for 1 1/2 cups of packed basil and requires minimal effort to throw together. Be sure not to miss the corn and cucumber salad on top—it brings the dish together with a little acid and crunch.
2. Basil-Roasted Eggplant with Heirloom Tomatoes and a Balsamic Drizzle
This roasted eggplant, a great mid-week meal, makes use of 1 cup of basil leaves. It takes less than thirty minutes to throw together and combines some of summer's best produce in one dish. Roast eggplant strips for 10 minutes, then brush it with a basil sauce made by combining the herbs with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in blender, and roast for 10 more minutes. The roasted eggplant is finished with fresh tomatoes and a balsamic glaze.
3. Basil-Macerated Strawberries
Macerating—softening food by soaking it in liquid—is one of the best ways to prepare summer fruit, and strawberries that have been macerated with a little honey or maple syrup pair perfectly with basil. Since this recipe only requires a small handful of herbs, it's perfect when you're left with just a few lingering leaves. Serve the macerated fruit by itself or use it to top gelato or a biscuit. If strawberries are no longer at the markets where you live, this recipe can easily be adapted to work with stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, and plums.
4. Basil Collins Cocktail
Towards the end of the week, finish up any basil that's on its way out by making this cocktail. Lightly whiz together the basil and simple syrup in a blender, then run the mixture through a strainer to collect any larger leaves. Combine the basil syrup with some gin and fresh lemon juice and you've given your classic Tom Collins cocktail a little update.
5. Green Goddess Basil Sauce
If all else fails and you're left wiith a lot of basil that needs to be put to good use, make this sauce—a spin on a classic Green Goddess dressing amped up with fresh basil flavor. It can be thrown together in under five minutes and used as a salad dressing or vegetable dip. Or, try it over grain bowls, roasted or grilled vegetables, and pasta. The recipe below makes for a thicker sauce—simply add a little more liquid (a combination of oil and non-dairy milk) for a thinner consistency. Freeze the leftovers so you can enjoy the bright basil flavor even when summer starts to fade.
Makes 1 cup
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup chives
1 cup fresh basil
Juice of two lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your non-dairy milk of choice)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Photos by Sherrie Castellano