I know you know you know this. But there is more than one kind of basil in this world.
One type I particularly love is Thai basil (Ocimum thyrsiflorum). I like to use Thai basil in summer cocktails. I do… check my blog. In fact I often grow Thai basil in the summer just for cocktails. That’s right. I have a cocktail section in my garden. But this summer I didn’t plant any. So when the inspiration hit for a basil infused vodka and passionfruit cocktail. I was a bit bummed. Fortunately I have served enough Thai basil cocktails to my friends to infect them with the love of the herb. Some of them even planted some themselves. So I went on a foraging adventure in their backyards.
Thai basil has wonderful anise notes. It’s not as well known as other types of basil. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is by far the most common variety. It is widely recognized as the standard, especially in Italian cooking. It’s big, bold and flavorful. Well deserving of all the attention it receives.
But genius sometimes lies in the details. And I know you want to be a genius, right? I mean “always aim for the left field bleachers” I always say. Actually I never say that. I hate baseball metaphors. But I am being editorially lazy and relying on standard catch-phrases. Shame on me!
Anyway, lose the lazy and familiarize yourself with other varieties of basil as well. We may be talking nuance here, and subtlety is not an attribute commonly attached to basil. But nonetheless there are subtle differences between the varieties. Some of these Ocimum cousins have gotten themselves entrenched in cuisines the entire world over.
That’s because basil is a member of the mint family. So they’re a hardy, easy to grow plant. There is one suited to most any environment.
That may account for its success in so many cultures. We know and love basil in Italian cooking. But it is a very common ingredient in Asian cooking too. Particularly Thai. So it’s natural to find a variety from that part of the world.
I think Thai basil is a very good place to start when experimenting with new basil flavors. It has a more assertive taste than the sweet basil you’re used to. Though it certainly tastes familiar. You will know what you are eating, but it does have the loveliest hint of anise to it as well.
Which sounds a bit exotic, right? I think so too– so that’s how I came to use lilikoi (passionfruit) in this cocktail. I serve it with a splash of soda in a tall Collins glass. So for the sake of argument, let’s just call this cocktail a Thai Basil Infused Passionfruit Collins. Because who wants to argue when we can quaff? GREG
- 20 thai basil leaves, you may substitute sweet basil
- 6 oz vodka
- 3 small passionfruit, halved
- 1 scoop cracked ice
- 1 oz cointreau
- ice cubes, as needed
- 2 oz splashed club soda, or as needed
Infuse the vodka: Place the basil leaves in a small jar. Add vodka cover jar and let infuse at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
When ready to serve place 2 halves passion fruit into a cocktail shaker. Muddle until pulpy. Strain the basil infused vodka into the cocktail shaker, discard basil. Add cointreau and cracked ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into 2 ice filled Collins glasses, dividing liquid evenly between them both. Top with club soda. Garnish each with 2 more halves passion fruit.
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.