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How to Use Basil

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How to Use Basil: Recipes for Using Basil to its Fullest

Basil season is starting where we live. We are lucky to have a long growing season and get about 8 months of the plant throughout the year. However, it seems like forever has passed once frost hits until it starts growing again. And even though you can get the herb in most grocery stores during the year, there is something about having an abundance that makes finding recipes for using basil more sought after in the warmer months. I would love to walk you through how to use this lovely herb so that when you have a little or a lot, you can come up with the best recipe that suits your mood!

Growing Basil

Before I get into how to best utilize this fantastic herb, I must tell you how easy it is to grow it from seed. In my experience, basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed. However, transplants do allow you to bypass initial growth if you are late planning your garden. This year we planted seeds and transplants so we can have a few stages to keep up with our use. Don’t forget to plant it in well-drained soil and full sunlight. It will start growing after the danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures have warmed to around 70°F (21°C) or higher.

Understanding Basil

This soft green leafy herb is an aromatic herb native to Asia, prized for its bright green leaves and peppery, slightly sweet flavor.

A Healthy Green

Basil is not only cherished for its culinary versatility but also for its potential health benefits. Incorporating this herb into your diet supplies you with good sources of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. In addition to its nutritional value, it has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. It’s believed to support digestion, promote respiratory health, and even aid in stress reduction.

Flavor Profile and Pairings

This soft, delicate herb adds sweet and tangy freshness to your dishes. It has a vibrant, herbaceous taste with hints of clove and pepper, lending freshness to dishes.

What Complements the Herb

Tomatoes, garlic, lemon, olive oil, mozzarella

Good Contrasts

Spicy peppers, tangy balsamic vinegar, rich meats like lamb or beef


Here are some popular basil varieties along with their flavor profiles:

  • Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum): The most common type, known for its sweet, slightly peppery flavor with hints of clove and anise. A classic variety you can use in Italian cuisine and pesto.
  • Genovese Basil: Similar to sweet basil and prized for its intense aroma and sweet, spicy flavor. The best variety for pesto and other Italian dishes.
  • Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’): Has a distinct aroma and flavor reminiscent of cinnamon, with hints of clove and citrus. Great for desserts, teas, and fruit salads
  • Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum): As the name suggests, it has a citrusy aroma and flavor, reminiscent of lemon zest with a hint of basil. Great for adding a bright, refreshing vibe to dishes and beverages.
  • African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum): This hybrid variety has purple stems, green leaves, and a complex flavor profile with hints of licorice, cinnamon, and mint. It’s both ornamental and edible.
  • Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum purpurascens): This variety has dark purple leaves and a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor similar to sweet basil. Use it as a decorative herb where you want a hint of flavor.
basil varieties

Asian Varieties

  • Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora): Has a unique flavor profile with hints of licorice, mint, and citrus. Commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian dishes.
  • Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): Also known as tulsi, this variety has a spicy, peppery flavor with hints of clove and mint. Revered in Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine for its medicinal properties.
  • “Shiso” (Perilla frutescens):
    • Green shiso has a refreshing and slightly minty flavor with hints of citrus and is often used as a garnish or flavoring in sushi, sashimi, salads, and soups. It is also commonly used to make shiso-infused vinegar or tea.
    • Red shiso has a stronger, more pungent flavor and is often used to pickle vegetables or make umeboshi (pickled plums).

How to Use Basil

Add the fresh leaves to salads, sandwiches, and wraps for extra flavor, or incorporate the chopped herb into pasta sauces, soups, and stir-fries. It’s also perfect for making pesto, infused oils, flavored vinegar, and herbal teas. And it can be a great addition to beverages and desserts.

Recipe Ideas Using Basil


  • Caprese Salad: Layer fresh basil leaves with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
  • Watermelon Salad: Combine diced watermelon, basil, feta cheese, and a splash of lime juice for a refreshing summer salad.
  • Strawberry Bruschetta: Top toasted bread with strawberries, basil, balsamic vinegar, and goat cheese for a sweet and savory appetizer.
  • Marinated Zuchinni: Cook zucchini briefly in a hot frying pan till just tender, then douse it in red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper.


  • Pesto: Blend basil with pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil for a classic sauce. Use this Genovese Pesto Recipe with pasta dishes, grilled chicken or vegetables, mushrooms or as a sandwich spread.
  • Compound Butter: Mix chopped basil into softened butter to create a compound butter. You can also add minced garlic. Spread over grilled chicken breasts, zucchini, or corn, on pasta or bread, or added to baked potatoes or soups.
  • Infused Oil: Blend fresh basil leaves with olive oil until smooth, then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove solids. Use as a flavorful drizzle over salads, grilled vegetables, and pasta dishes, or as a finishing touch on soups and appetizers.
  • Anchovy Chili Sauce: See recipe card below. A fabulous and versatile sauce to keep in the fridge for a quick snack or meal option.


  • Margherita Pizza: Top pizza dough with fresh mozzarella, and ripe tomatoes and cook until bubbly with a crisp crust. Top the tomato and cheese pizza with basil, and a drizzle of olive oil for a simple but delicious pizza.
  • Tuna Poke Bowl: Garnish your tuna poke bowl with green shisho.


  • Lemon Sherbet: Lighter than ice cream and creamier than sorbet, this lemon sherbet is tangy and bright, and the basil is a surprising complement to the fresh lemon.
  • Blueberry Gallete: Toss together the chopped basil and fresh blueberries before folding up a pie crust and placing it in the oven to bake.


  • Limemade: Infuse limemade with basil leaves for a unique twist on a classic beverage.
  • Strawberry Shrub: Combine basil with strawberry, sugar, and vinegar, then let the mixture sit for several days to develop flavor. Use the infused shrub as a unique and flavorful addition to cocktails, mocktails, or as a base for salad dressings and marinades.
  • Tisane Tea: Add fresh basil leaves, ginger slices, and lemon balm leaves to boiling water. Let the herbs infuse in the water for 5-7 minutes and then strain.

From savory to sweet, basil’s vibrant flavor elevates any dish with freshness and amazing aroma. It truly is a fantastic yet simple way to elevate a dish.

One of our favorite applications for basil is to throw together a savory chili sauce to use in multiple dishes. The sauce boasts rich umami flavors of fresh and dried chilis, anchovies, garlic as well as complimentary sweet spices like coriander and fennel seeds. We think it’s grand drizzled over crispy smashed potatoes, as an accompaniment to grilled shrimp, or a yummy dip for pita or bread. Try it and let us know what you think!

basil chili anchovy sauce in a stone serving container with oil pooling on top

Basil Chili Sauce with Anchovy

This bold and flavorful sauce combines the aromatic essence of fresh basil with savory anchovies and a hint of chili heat. Perfect as a dipping sauce, marinade, or topping for grilled meats and vegetables.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: accoutrement, batch cooking, herbs, sauce, versatile
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Infusing Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 120kcal
Author: juiceofsevenlemons
Cost: $5


  • Food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle
  • Serving bowl or jar for storing the sauce


  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
  • 1 Fresno chili pepper seeded
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon mild chili flakes optional, such as Aleppo or Urfa
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • fine sea salt to taste


  • Using a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle, combine the fresh basil leaves, garlic cloves, anchovy fillets, Fresno chili pepper, ground coriander, ground fennel seeds, white pepper, and optional chili flakes.
  • Pulse or grind the ingredients until coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl or mortar as needed.
  • With the food processor running or while grinding in the mortar, slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice until the mixture forms a smooth sauce. Add more olive oil if needed to reach your desired consistency.
  • Taste the sauce and season with salt to taste. Adjust the seasoning or add more lemon juice for brightness if desired.
  • Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl or jar and let the flavors meld for about an hour. The flavors will develop and meld together as the sauce sits.
  • Store the sauce in the refrigerator for about 1 to 2 weeks in an airtight container. The sauce is at its best within 1-2 days of making.


Serving Suggestions:
  • With Smashed Potatoes: Serve the Basil Anchovy Sauce alongside crispy smashed potatoes for a flavorful dipping sauce. The combination of basil, anchovies, and spices will add depth and richness to the potatoes.
  • With Fish or Seafood: Use as a marinade or finishing sauce for grilled or roasted fish or seafood. The bold flavors of the sauce will complement the delicate flavors of the seafood beautifully.
  • As a Bread Dip: Serve as a dip for crusty bread or focaccia. The umami-rich anchovies and aromatic spices will elevate simple bread into a delicious and satisfying appetizer or snack.
  • Grilled Vegetables: Drizzle the Basil Anchovy Sauce over grilled vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and mushrooms. The savory and aromatic flavors of the sauce will complement the smokiness of the grilled vegetables.
  • Pasta: Toss with cooked pasta (such as spaghetti or linguine) for a quick and flavorful pasta dish. Add some grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper for an extra layer of flavor.
  • Salad Dressing: Thin out the Basil Anchovy Sauce with a bit of water/lemon juice to create a tangy and herbaceous salad dressing. Use it to dress mixed greens, tomato salads, or pasta salads for a burst of flavor.
  • Grilled Meats: Use as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats such as chicken, pork, or lamb. The savory and aromatic qualities of the sauce will add depth and richness to the grilled meats.
  • Bruschetta: Spread onto toasted bread or crostini for a delicious and flavorful bruschetta topping. Add some fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, or roasted red peppers for a colorful and tasty appetizer.
  • Stuffed Tomatoes: Hollow out ripe tomatoes and fill them with a mixture of cooked grains (such as quinoa or couscous), chopped vegetables, and the Basil Anchovy Sauce. Bake until the tomatoes are tender for a flavorful and nutritious dish.
  • Pizza Topping: Use as a flavorful base or topping for homemade pizzas. Spread it onto pizza dough along with your favorite toppings and cheese before baking for a delicious and unique pizza flavor.


Serving: 30g | Calories: 120kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 212mg | Potassium: 75mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 200IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Iron: 0.5mg

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