Israelis love their greens. They love turning hummus green with the addition of parsley. They love the fresh bite of basil in a pesto spread and a mellowness that thyme adds to a roasted meal. There are certain herbs and combinations of herbs typical to Israeli cuisine that, remarkably, also have healthful properties.
We’re taking a deep dive into three herbs, basil, oregano, and parsley. We’ve added a recipe for you to try at home. This is part one of a two part series exploring the nuances of herbs typically used in Israeli cooking.
The basil commonly purchased for cooking is sweet basil. Its licorice-clove flavor is sold dried in supermarkets. There are many different varieties of sweet basil also known as Saint Joseph's Wort, each with a different flavor profile. Bush or Greek basil has a strong aroma and mild flavor. Thai basil has a pronounced anise flavor, commonly used in Southeast Asian dishes. Cinnamon basil, native to Mexico features a cinnamon-like flavor and scent. Lettuce basil has distinctive large, wrinkled, soft leaves that works well tossed with tomatoes and olive oil. The basil commonly used in supplements and herbal tea is holy basil, sometimes called tulsi. It is a related but different species.
Basil's benefits include reducing inflammation. It contains compounds that fight the effects of aging, and is a potent antibacterial.
Oregano is a small, bushy plant, a hardy perennial herb that comes in many varieties. The flavor profile runs from peppery to lemony to burn-your-tongue hot. Usually more flavorful dried than fresh, oregano is high in antioxidants. It's used to treat digestive issues and so much more.
Oregano offers protection from some kinds of bacteria and some kinds of viruses. It is an excellent source of fiber and the vitamins A, C, E and K. Medical use has found it to be helpful in the treatment of colds and flu, indigestion, and to regulate the menstrual cycle. That means that ingesting oregano can reduce fever and relieve diarrhea. Made into a poultice, oregano can be used to remedy sore muscles and eczema.
Most of the healthful benefits of oregano come from oregano oil, an oil typically diluted by olive oil at a 1:3 ratio. Some sources claim that oregano oil may help reduce inflammation. Applying diluted oregano oil to the skin may help protect smaller cuts and scrapes on the skin as they heal. Oregano oil also has been proven helpful in repelling ticks and mosquitoes. Oregano oil on the skin may be a natural way to repel these pests.
More than garnish on your restaurant meal, parsley is useful as a digestive aid and a natural breath freshener. Its bright green leaves are packed with vitamins C, B12, and A, as well as tons of potassium. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. It is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense herb. Parsley contains many powerful antioxidants that can benefit your health. This nutritional powerhouse can help regulate water weight, balance blood sugar, and help with long-term weight balance. Parsley extract also has antibacterial properties.
Try this quick, five minute pesto recipe:
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.
If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.
*Recipe courtesy of Food Network. Additional detail and video posted on site.
Via Sabra shows you Israel the Sabra way. We’ll help you uncover delicious aspects of the Middle East, and show you tips to bring the tastiest portions back home to your own kitchen.