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A Basket Full of Basil

Last week, I bought a basil plant. Before I met my husband, I never owned a plant of any kind – unless you count the plastic variety.  And I don’t think I even used any sort of fresh herbs in cooking until I was at least 30. When I was a kid, I think the only herbs/spices we had in our house were salt, pepper and a jar of garlic powder. A fresh herb would have jumped out of the window of that kitchen. Unfortunately, they don’t always fare much better in my kitchen since I’ve been known to slowly torture plants and herb plants with inconsistent care. My basil plant currently lives in the bedroom on top of the air conditioner in the window (0ut of the reach of the new kitten). I give it another two weeks.  

Some people are passionate about herbs. My husband is completely smitten with cilantro, but I am much more attracted to basil. My favorite uses for fresh basil are 1) Basil, fresh mozzarella and tomato pizza, 2) Basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella salad (or in any salad), and 3) pesto.

Pesto is a great alternative to red sauce when making pasta. Recently, a friend  gave me a great tip on basil – make pesto now with the fresh, in-season basil and freeze it to enjoy all winter long. Apparently, it is very easy to do and it keeps wonderfully.

Classic Pesto (from Cooking Light magazine)

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  coarsely chopped walnuts or pine nuts
  • 2  garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4  cups  basil leaves (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt

Preparation

Drop nuts and garlic through food chute with food processor on; process until minced. Add oil; pulse 3 times. Add basil, cheese, and salt; process until finely minced, scraping sides of bowl once.

Tips on Freezing Pesto: http://www.ehow.com/how_4532321_freeze-fresh-basil.html

Step 1: Trim basil off the basil plant. You can use regular kitchen scissors or your hands to gently pull the leaves off.

Step 2: Wash the basil thoroughly. Place the basil into a colander and shake to dry. Let sit for several minutes or press with paper towels to remove excess water.

Step 3: Place the fresh basil in a food processor. Pulse the food processor until the basil is very roughly chopped. You can also use a sharp knife to cut the basil by hand.

Step 4: Coat the basil lightly with olive oil. You can pour the olive oil in while you’re pulsing the basil in the food processor, or you can coat the chopped basil in the colander by pouring the olive oil over the basil and tossing it lightly.

Step 5: Put basil in a plastic container with a fitted lid. Pack the container tightly to avoid freezer burn. The basil will keep in the freezer for approximately a year. Note: or better yet – fill ice cube trays with the pesto, freeze and then place frozen cubes in plastic bags, which will also keep for the next season.

Taco Tuesday

Due to some busy schedules around here, we’ve done more than our fair share of take-out and restaurant meals of late. Although, I did make a pretty solid version of Thai Basil mussels with coconut milk over brown rice and a vegan chocolate peanut butter pie one night last week. This week, I am trying to get back on track now that we’re well stocked for some more cooking adventures at Not My Mother’s Kitchen.

I got the idea for these tacos from the May/June issue of Vegetarian Times. But as always, I had to make it my own. I did a cold version of this – more like a black bean and corn salad filling for the tacos. As you might remember, I’ve done black bean tacos before and it was a big hit in our house. This version is a little different since I’m using corn, feta cheese and hard taco shells.

 Black Bean & Corn Salad Tacos

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup prepared salsa or ½ cup plum tomatoes
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, divided
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 hard taco shells (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • ½ avocado
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 2 small green onions, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Juice from ½ lime

 Directions

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix together. Heat taco shells on baking rack in oven 6 to 7 minutes, or until crisp. Fill each taco with the bean and corn salad. Top each taco with sour cream or greek yogurt if desired. Store any extra salad in a container since you can reuse the salad the next day for lunch or for more tacos the next night.

Bonus Recipe: Super Easy Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

 Ingredients

  • 1 container dark chocolate tofu, silken or firm (approx 12 oz)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp soy milk
  • 1 pre-made pie crust

Blend together the peanut butter, silken tofu, chocolate and soy milk in blender until smooth and creamy, adding a bit more soy milk if necessary. Pour into pie crust and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.

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