Q: I like the aroma of basil. How can I use more of this lovely herb in Chinese cooking?
Low Pei Chin
A:Basil's aromatic freshness is a great foil for most meats and seafood, especially rich tasting or oily food like lamb, pork and almost every sort of shellfish.
Its sweet scent may have nuances of clove, citrus, anise, or even flowers, depending on which variety of this huge herb family you choose. The most common types sold in Singapore are Western sweet basil, Thai sweet basil, Indian and Thai holy basil, and lemon basil.
In Chinese cuisine, basil is perhaps most strongly associated with Hakka cooking, where it is used in meat and vegetable dishes. It's a fundamental ingredient in Hakka lui cha, or thunder tea, a blended herb broth.
Taiwanese cuisine also calls on basil for seafood dishes, and for the well-known san bei ji, 'three cup chicken', cooked with rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil.
It is best to add the herb to a dish at the last minute. A little heat helps to release its fragrance, but overcooking it attenuates its flavour. Just throw a handful of torn or shredded leaves into stir-fries, braises or soups and stir well.
In traditional medicine, basil (especially holy basil) is often prescribed for coughs, skin conditions and to aid digestion as it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and detoxifying powers.