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What Is Thai Basil?
Thai basil is a variety of basil (Ocimum basilicum) best known for its use in Asian cuisine. Unlike its cousin, Italian basil (aka Genovese basil), Thai basil has sturdy, resilient leaves that stand up well to extended cooking times and prolonged heat. Native to Southeast Asia, this member of the Lamiaceae family is recognizable by its narrow green leaves with serrated edges, purple stems, and distinct licorice-like aroma.
Thai basil plants, which also sprout pink and purple flowers, are tender perennials that grow best in warm, tropical climates in full sun with no frost exposure. Other common types of basil include lemon basil, cinnamon basil, purple basil, Mexican basil, and holy basil (aka Tulsi). Of these varieties, Thai basil is the most commonly used in the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Where Can You Buy Thai Basil?
As Thai basil grows increasingly popular throughout the US, more and more grocers and gourmet markets have begun carrying the flavorful herb, but the best bet for finding Thai basil is in Asian markets. Home cooks can also opt to buy Thai basil plants to add to the herb garden or windowsill herb planter for easy access, or to seek out the Eastern herb online.
What’s the Difference Between Thai Basil and Italian Basil?
Thai basil is distinct from its sweeter Italian cousin in texture, flavor, and appearance. Unlike sweet basil, a delicate herb with a glossy leaf, fresh Thai basil has sturdy, slim leaves that resemble mint leaves. The sturdy texture of Thai basil makes it suitable for exposure to prolonged heat, whereas the more delicate sweet basil is typically added at the end of cooking or in raw dishes like salads due to its fine leaves. In terms of flavor, Italian basil has a sweet, slightly minty herbaceous taste, Thai basil has a more anise-heavy licorice flavor that is distinct from Italian basil.
15 Thai Basil Recipe Ideas
- Sanbeiji: Also known as Taiwanese three cup chicken, made with boneless skinless chicken breast (or chicken thighs), rice wine, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and Thai basil.
- Thai Green Curry: A spicy Thai dish made with coconut milk, curry paste, eggplant, chicken, fish sauce, broth, garlic, and ginger. Topped with fresh Thai basil.
- Pho: A traditional Vietnamese soup made with fragrant broth, rice noodles, and sliced meat. Topped with fresh herbs like Thai basil, bean sprouts, chilies, lime, and onion.
- Pad Thai: Stir-fried rice noodles cooked in a flavorful tamarind sauce and topped with Thai basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, and roasted peanuts.
- Indian Coconut Curry: A coconut milk-based curry recipe flavored with turmeric, coriander, cloves, cumin, chicken, Thai basil, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and ginger. Served with basmati rice.
- Taiwanese Eggplant: Sliced eggplant braised in a sauce of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, oil, and salt. Garnished with torn Thai basil leaves.
- Fried Tofu With Thai Basil: Pan-fried tofu cooked with garlic, sweet peppers, onion, ginger, soy sauce, and chili flakes. Topped with Thai basil and a fried egg.
- Thai Basil Mojito: A twist on a classic cocktail made with simple syrup, rum, club soda, lime, and Thai basil muddled with sugar.
- Vietnamese Spring Rolls: Fresh shrimp spring rolls wrapped in rice paper with chopped Thai basil, carrots, cilantro, mint leaves, and lettuce. Dipped in a sauce made with fish sauce, vinegar, garlic chili sauce, hoisin sauce, and garlic.
- Tom Yum Soup: A spicy Thai soup made with Thai chilies, broth, lemongrass, garlic, shrimp, white onions, tomato, fish sauce, lime juice, and Thai basil.
- Papaya Salad With Thai Basil: Thinly sliced green papaya tossed in a dressing of lime juice, oil, sugar, fish sauce, and chilies. Topped with sliced Thai basil and roasted peanuts.
- Crispy Basil Fried Rice: Fried rice prepared in a wok with chicken, jasmine rice, Thai basil, garlic, red pepper, onion, and seasonings.
- Green Beans Stir Fry With Thai Basil and Crispy Shallots: Green beans stir-fried in a pan with oil, garlic, and chilies. Tossed in a sauce of fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and sliced Thai basil.
- Drunken Noodles: Wide noodles cooked in a sauce of chicken stock, fish sauce, soy sauce, red chili paste, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and sugar. Topped with torn Thai basil and roasted peanuts.
- Thai Basil Pesto - A spin on traditional pesto made with Thai basil, sesame oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, lime juice, rice vinegar, and peanuts.
Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow)
Prep Time15 min
Total Time25 min
Serves: 2–4 people
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- ¾ lb ground chicken
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 bird’s eye chilies (aka Thai chilies), finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bunch Thai basil leaves, some reserved for garnish
- In a wok set over medium-high heat, preheat the oil. When the oil is piping hot, add the garlic cloves. Once the garlic has turned golden brown, add the ground chicken, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks, about 3 minutes.
- Add the pepper, chilies, fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, and pepper and stir to combine. Sauté for 2 minutes before adding in the basil leaves and cooking until fully wilted, 30 seconds.
- Serve immediately over rice, topped with torn sprigs of fresh basil.
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