Chef's Hat: Known as the 'king of herbs,' basil comes in many varieties and has health benefits
Use this herb when preparing a meal that combines lasagna made in the crockpot with garlic bread
Basil enhances the aroma and flavors of foods and is one of the most commonly consumed herbs.
This leafy, green herb originated in Asia and Africa and has been used in cooking and in medicinal purposes for hundreds of years - thus the title, “the king of herbs.”
Basil comes in several varieties, the most common ones being:
- Thai basil: This variety has an anise-licorice flavor and is commonly used in Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.
- Cinnamon basil: Cinnamon basil is native to Mexico. It has a cinnamon-like flavor and scent and is commonly used to season vegetables, especially stir-fried vegetables.
- Lemon basil: This variety can be added to salads and fish dishes. A sprig of lemon basil can be placed in a glass of iced tea to highlight the tea flavor.
- Sweet basil: This is a very common variety of basil and is the one generally found at grocery stores. If a recipe doesn’t specify a particular variety of basil, it probably calls for sweet basil. Sweet basil is often used in Italian dishes and is a great topping on a caprese salad.
- Greek basil: This variety has a strong aroma but a mild flavor, so it can be substituted for sweet basil.
- Holy basil: This plant is an honored plant in the Hindu religion. Holy basil is also referred to as sacred basil or tulsi. Holy basil has a long history of medicinal use. A few studies suggest benefits, including reducing blood sugar and stress.
Other health benefits of basil include: aiding digestion, having anti-inflammatory properties, enhancing skin health, supporting liver function and helping to detoxify the body. But it is generally used in small quantities and, thus, the only substantial nutrient it provides is vitamin K.
However, to get more of the health benefits from this herb, add it to salads, water or iced tea or sprinkle it liberally on vegetables.
Basil can also be used for bug bites or warts. Crush up some fresh basil leaves and rub them on the bite to stop the itch. To remove a wart, rub some basil leaves on the wart daily and then cover it with a bandage. This is cheaper than and just as effective as a prepared wart removal method.
Lasagna is a fulfilling, satisfying family meal, but it does take a bit of prep time. By placing all the ingredients into a slow cooker, you can start your meal and then go off and enjoy your day and come home to a ready-to-eat meal. Don’t forget to make a side of basil-garlic bread to accompany your dish.
For most of us, basil is the go-to herb when preparing Italian dishes or as a topping on garlic bread. It can be used in many more dishes, and if you feel like diving in, test it out on bug bites or to help relieve stress. Happy Eating!
Basil Garlic Bread
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons jarred garlic (mix with a dash of salt and ½ teaspoon olive oil)
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- 2 tablespoons basil leaves
- Black pepper
- 1 loaf of crusty bread (such as a baguette)
- Olive oil
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, stir together the butter, garlic mix, parsley and basil.
Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Spread the herb-garlic mixture over the bread. Sprinkle a little olive oil over the mixture. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place the bread on the baking sheet. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, just until the bread is lightly browned.
Slow Cooker Lasagna
- ¾ pound Italian sausage, mild or hot (depending on your taste)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cans Italian style tomatoes (look for tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano)
- 1 tablespoon basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes, optional
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese or small curd cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 12-15 uncooked lasagna noodles
In a 10- to 12-inch skillet, cook the sausage and onion over medium heat. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sausage is no longer pink. Drain the grease. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper, and if you need a bit of heat, add the hot pepper flakes.
Place the egg in a medium sized bowl and lightly beat. Add 2 cups of the mozzarella, the ricotta (or cottage cheese) and the Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
Spray a 3 1/2- to 5-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon ¼ of the sausage mixture into the slow cooker; top with 4 noodles (break the pieces to fit). Top with half of the cheese mixture and another ¼ of the sausage mixture. Repeat layering with the remaining ingredients, finishing the top with another layer of noodles.
Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours. After 3 hours, check the noodles. If the noodles are getting “crunchy,” flip over the noodles on the top layer. After 6 hours, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese melts.
Donna Evans is an Echo Journal correspondent.