Basil – an Indispensable Herb of French Cuisine

In many cultures, basil is treated as a sacred herb. In India, it is an object of veneration, which is planted in temples and monastery gardens. It is believed to have a power to cure diseases and kill both mosquitoes and demons thriving in the open air. In ancient Persia and Greece, basil was associated with the world of spirits, and therefore, was often planted on graves. In ancient Rome, the herb was considered a sexual stimulant eaten by lovers to promote the “fire of love” and boost fertility…Today, basil is an important plant of Mediterranean cuisine, and especially it is praised in both French and Italian cooking. The French call basil the “royal plant” – “l’hebre royale”, and there is a good reason for that. In accordance with research, the scent of basil has a salutary effect on people’s disposition and outlook. Brewed into a tea, basil is great for the gastrointestinal tract as it can relieve gas and even combat dysentery. Just like mint, the basil’s closest relative, it is easy to cultivate in a garden or in a pot at home. And, of course, it has a pleasant and unique taste, which makes it an indispensable ingredient for the preparation of many dishes. Especially beautifully does basil go with tomato, fish, and meat dishes.

In French cuisine, basil is one of the most important herbs. Very often, the French put torn basil leaves in salads of sliced tomatoes, lightly seasoned with Celtic sea salt (very healthy unrefined sea salt harvested in France), freshly ground black pepper, and virgin olive oil, and accompanied by crusty baguette. Perhaps the most famous basil dish is pesto – and the French have their own version of pesto, called “pistou”, which is made from garlic, cheese, and pine nut. Pistou can be used as a marinade or a condiment, and it is able to turn humble spaghetti into a true feast! To prepare authentic French spaghetti with pesto, first make pesto by combining together (better with a help of a mortar and a peste, but a food processor will go, too) a bunch of basil, 4 cloves of garlic, a handful of pine nuts, 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. Toss hot spaghetti with the pesto and enjoy with a glass of light dry Chardonnay. Bon appetite! :)

French Sorrel

French sorrel (Rumex Scutatus), a mildly acidic cultivated green herb, has always been praised throughout Europe, especially in France where it enjoys its greatest popularity. It is a very ancient herb; its name is derived from the Teutonic word for “sour”. Ancient species of sorrel were extensively used in pharaonic Egypt and its allied type, garden sorrel, is still employed in modern Egyptian cooking. The ancient Greeks and Romans respected the herb for its role in promoting digestion and considered it a good complement to rich, fatty meals.To store, put French sorrel into a sealed plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator. Sorrel does not dry well, but it can be frozen successfully. Its leaves, rich in potassium and vitamins C and A, will keep its beneficial qualities and great taste for a long time, but they are especially good when fresh.

In cooking, sorrel is generally pureed and can be a perfect base for sauces that accompany poached eggs and fish. This herb is also used in mixed green salads, sandwiches, omelettes, and with soft goat cheeses, veal, pork, and fish. Be careful to cut it only with stainless steel knives and refrain from cooking it in metal pots, because the high acidity of sorrel causes them to discolour. In modern French cuisine, this herb is most notably used to prepare the three popular dishes: sorrel soup, salmon with sorrel sauce, or “saumon a l’oseille”, and

veal stew with sorrel:

Heat 4 tsp of olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet, add about 1 kg of cubed boneless veal (in small batches), sauté over low heat until golden, and transfer to a casserole pot. In the same skillet, sauté 2 finely chopped onions and about 250 gm mushrooms until they are tender. Transfer to the casserole pot with 1 cup each of home-made chicken stock and dry white wine and add bouquet garni (a French term for a bundle of herbs, usually, parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf) and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours, until the veal is tender. Transfer the veal cubes to a serving dish. Remove the bouquet garni. Reduce the cooking liquid by rapid boiling, stir in chopped French sorrel (about 250 gm), and cook until soft, for about 10 min. Pour over the veal and serve with white rice and a glass of red Burgundy wine. Enjoy!