Seasonal Produce: Basil
Basil is a tasty herb that's commonly used in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. A flavorful addition to meat, whole-wheat pasta, fish, salad, and soup, basil contains calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium, and carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Basil is grown throughout the year (it is easily grown indoors as well as outside, as long as there is no danger of frost), though it is much more abundant during the summer months. Best of all, you can use this herb in all Phases of the South Beach Diet.
There are many varieties of basil, all with different flavors and uses, and most markets carry it. You can purchase basil by the bunch or by the whole plant. The benefit of buying the plant is that it can continue to grow even after you've picked a few leaves. If you keep a small plant on your kitchen windowsill, you've got your own personal supply of basil! If you do buy it from the market, look for bright green leaves with no brown spots or other signs of decay. Basil can also be purchased as a dry herb, though the fresh version is much more potent.
Fresh basil should be kept in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for no more than four days. It's best to leave it on the stalk until you're ready to use it.
To use basil, first pick the leaves from the stalk and rinse well. For the most intense flavor when cooking, crush the leaves and add to soups, stews, and whole-wheat pasta. Because basil does not stand up well to heat and should not be cooked for too long, you may want to add it to a dish at the very last moment. Simply chop it coarsely and toss it in just before your food is ready. Another option is to puree basil with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic for a tasty, pesto-like sauce for seafood, poultry, and whole-wheat pasta.
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