50 Shades of Green Series: (Thai) Basil Pesto

Hi all! Given that it's St. Patty's day, I figured it's time for another green recipe! Today, I am putting Basil on the spot for a little "50 Shades of Green" action. 

Basil is my second favorite herb (cilantro is my #1) because of its beautiful aroma and versatility. A random fact about basil you can bring to your next trivia night is that it actually belongs to the mint family. Its botanical name is ocimum basilicum and its name comes from the Greek word basileus, which means "King" or "Royal". There are more than 40 varieties of basil grown around the world; some of the common ones include Sweet, Lemon, Thai, Holy, and Cinnamon. Who knew?! 

Beautiful Thai Basil!

Nutritional profile: Basil is a great source of vitamins A, C, E, and K. It is also a good source of the minerals manganese, copper, magnesium, and potassium, which are necessary for various processes of the body. Its antioxidant properties also come from the flavonoids vecenin, orientin, eugenol, and anthocyanins, which are organic plant compounds found in the stems and leaves. 

Potential health benefits: The different types of basil get their names from the predominant aroma they exude, which is a result of their unique essential oils present in their leaves, stems, flowers, roots, and seeds. These volatile oils are organic and  actually play a role in the biochemical activity of basil. The essential oils serve as antimicrobial defenses, and can prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Certain basil extracts have also been found to reduce inflammation by blocking the release or use of certain compounds that are necessary in the inflammatory process. In Ayurvedic and Eastern medicine, basil is considered a "warming" food and can have a calming effect. In India, holy basil was thought to help with gastric, hepatic, respiratory, and inflammatory disorders.

Purchasing, Storing, and Preparing: Basil is typically grown in summer months, but can be grown inside during the winter near a sunny window. When you are buying basil, look for leaves that are intact, and avoid those that are browning, yellowing, or wilted. For fresh basil leaves, refrigerate them in a barely damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag for up to 4 days. When purchasing basil in a bunch, place the stems down in a  glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves for up to a week, replacing the water every 2 days. To preserve fresh basil, you can wash and dry the leaves, and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a tightly sealed container. You can also finely chop the cleaned basil and combine it with a small amount of olive oil or water and freeze in tiny portions. You can use basil in soups, stews, curries, salads, pesto, etc. Usually it is added towards the end of cooking to maintain its strong flavor. It's really a beautifully versatile herb!

Chances are, you've mostly enjoyed Sweet or Italian Basil in Mediterranean and/or Italian inspired dishes. Here, I used Thai Basil to add some variety to your life, and because for Christmas, my beer guy husband got me an AeroGarden, from which the Thai Basil has grown rampant. Needless to say, we've had to get pretty creative with it to avoid wasting this amazing herb. Pesto is a great way to use up basil, so I decided to go with a Thai Basil pesto for this Shade of Green!

Thai Basil Pesto with Soba Noodles & Vegetable Stirfry

Recipe adapted from Jess Fuel
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:

For the Pesto

  • 2 cups packed Thai basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts (you could also use 2 tablespoons natural PB)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 inch ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • 1 tsp white miso paste
  • 1 jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Water for thinning

For the Stirfry

  • 1 package soba noodles (I like this brand)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into half inch cubes
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (optional)
  • 3-4 Thai basil leaves roughly chopped (for garnish)
  • Sriracha (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Start by making the pesto. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor/magic bullet/blender, and pulse to get things going. Stir it up if necessary and then blend or process until smooth. If it is still too thick, add water to thin and blend. Set pesto aside.
  2. Cook soba noodles per package instructions.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add the onions and stir until translucent; about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add the carrots, bell pepper, and zucchini and continue to sauté for another few minutes. Then add the broccoli and continue to stir. 
  6. Add in the cooked soba noodles, coconut milk, and 2-3 heaping tablespoons of pesto and toss until everything is evenly coated. Taste and add more pesto if necessary.* Remove from heat.
  7. Serve in bowls topped with Sriracha and a few fresh Thai Basil leaves for garnish and enjoy!*

*The remaining pesto can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and used in this dish, or you can throw it on some quinoa, veggies, use as a dipping sauce, with eggs, etc.
*You may also top this dish with lean protein of your choice (chicken, fish, an egg, chickpeas, etc.)

What is your favorite way to eat basil? Have you tried any other varieties of basil? Let me know your thoughts if you try this out!