/UK: bah-zuhl; US: bay-zeel/

Basil is a aromatic plant of the mint family with white flowers which probably originated in India. The leaves are generally light green and have a strong flavour of lemon and jasmine, liquorice and cloves and a warm, spicy smell. It is particularly good with tomatoes. Only use at the last moment, to enhance the flavour. The best variety for general use is probably Genovese, common or sweet basil.

Other varieties include bush or Greek, cinnamon, holy or sacred, lemon, lettuce-leaved, liquorice, purple, purple ruffles, red and Thai basil or Horapha. When I lived in Greece I saw that most houses had a pot of basil which was treated with enormous care but I never saw it used in cooking. In a house where I regularly had lunch the pot of basil was placed in the centre of the table, outdoors under a vine, dappled by light. Kiria Maria would cook some small, fresh fish called gopes and bring them to the table, with bread and lemons and local oil. She would brush the basil with her hands, and the aroma would wash over us as the fish cooled.

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