Three types of basil are used in Thai cuisine: sweet, anise flavoured, purple-flowered horapa (which we call Thai basil); maenglak – lemon flavoured and least commonly used, and kaprao – holy basil, the type most dear to Thai people. Last spring I found Holy Basil seedlings for sale at the Avondale Markets (look for the Thai family selling herb seedlings and bromeliads, at the beginning of one of the aisles). I promptly planted six of them in different spots of my garden and they’re now ready to harvest. Interestingly, the plants don’t seem to go to flower as rapidly as regular basil or Thai basil, which is handy.
Before this I had never seen holy basil leaves or living plants for sale. And neither had I ever been served holy basil in a Thai restaurant here – despite the fact they use the word ”kaprao” on the menu, it’s inevitably Thai basil that is used as a substitute. And a poor substitute it is, really. I love Thai basil, but its unmistakable anise kick is completely different to the more complex and hard to describe flavour of holy basil. Raw, it’s more peppery than anything else, but when cooked its minty flavour and savoury base come to the fore.The leaves are thin, with jagged edges, and there are red (purple) and green varieties – the red has a more pronounced flavour.
Use holy basil in Thai stirfries – pad kaprao. You can either add the leaves toward the end of cooking, or you can also fry the leaves in a little oil to crispen them and preserve their colour, then use to garnish stirfries, soups and salads.
* The plants do well in containers and are said to ward off mosquitoes, another good reason to have a few out on the deck or patio in summer!
* Tulsi, as it’s known in India, is an important purifying herb in Ayuverdic thinking.