Nov 24, 2014

Basil Benefits

fresh basil leaves
The basil that we know -- either in the form of fresh basil leaves or dried basil powder -- comes from the plant scientifically known as Ocimum basilicum which belongs to the mint family of herbs. Basil has a sweet and minty taste that has a lovely fragrance. It goes well with meats, cheese, eggs, tomatoes and many vegetables.

Origin of Basil
Basil finds its roots in India and Persia as it thrives well in the hot and dry conditions of the tropics. Lately I have even been seeing basil leaves being regularly sold in my city’s farmers’ market. The United States and Egypt are the world’s top cultivators of this wonderful herb.

Basil in Different Countries
Basil appears to have a universal appeal as evidenced by the fact that nearly all regions of the world -- Mediterranean, European, Asian and American -- have adopted this aromatic herb into their respective cuisines.

  • The Italians are probably the most ardent lovers of basil, sneaking in the herb in nearly all their dishes.
  • The Hindus also adore basil so much so that every home in India keeps a pot of basil.
  • The Romans highly value basil to the extent that they have made the herb a symbol of love and fertility.
  • The Thais are yet another basil-loving people. Thai cusine makes frequent and liberal use of basil.

Health Benefits of Basil
Basil fans would be delighted to know that this spice also happens to be superior in nutrition.
  • Antioxidant. Basil scores high in terms of antioxidant content and thus combats free radical damage which is the primary culprit in degenerative diseases and cancer.
  • Antibacterial. The essential oil of basil has shown antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus (common skin bacteria), Enterococcus and Pseudomonas (which attack the colon).
  • Protects against radiation. Two prominent flavonoids in basil -- orientin and vicenin -- have been found to protect cells against radiation-induced damage. This is especially needful in our gadget-crazy world.
  • Rich in beta-carotene. Basil may be bright green in color but it surprisingly has high amounts of the antioxidant beta-carotene which protects the linings of the blood vessels from free radical damage which causes a host of cardiovascular problems.
  • Treats digestive problems. In many cultures, tea made of basil leaves is traditionally used to treat common digestive ailments such as flatulence, indigestion, stomach cramps and constipation.
  • Nutritionally dense. Basil is classified as a good source of Vitamins C and K and the minerals iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Of course it also has lots of fiber.
  • Aromatherapeutic. The essential oil of basil has calming powers and is commonly used in aromatherapy to soothe stress away.

Some basil usage tips:
  • Use half a teaspoon of ground basil leaves for every 4 servings of food. You can gradually increase the proportion as you get the hang of its taste.
  • You can dry basil leaves in the shade, crush them in a mortar and then keep in a nifty glass bottle.
  • Basil goes especially well with tomato-based dishes such as pastas.
  • Crumbling basil leaves over baked fish or chicken will impart a lovely flavor and fragrance.

Nov 21, 2014

Basic Components of A Marinade

marinated meat
Still in keeping with my current fascination with spices, and as a sequel to this post on 10 Tips on Marinating Meat, I'm posting here my research on how to put together a marinade recipe. I'm a newbie here, obviously, and so let's go foray together into the world of marinades.

A myriad of marinade recipes can be found online but in general, the ingredients in a marinade can be classified into 3 broad groups -- aromatics, acids and fats. A good grasp of these basic marinade components is essential to learning an array of marinade recipes from different regions and ethnicities.

Acids in the marinade serve to partially break down the proteins on the meat surface so that the rest of the marinade ingredients can penetrate deep down into the inner layers of the meat. The following are the acidifying ingredients that are typically used in marinades:

Vinegars. Italian dishes make use of flavored vinegars such as balsamic vinegar. Europeans use wine and wine vinegar in their marinades while in Asia, rice vinegar and coconut wine vinegar are common marinade acidifiers.

Fruit juices. Lemons are universal marinade fruit juices. Other less common fruit juices used in marinades are pomegranates in the Middle East, and limes, grapefruits and oranges in America. Here in the Philippines, lemons are the mainstay.

Soured or cultured milk products. Yogurt and soured milk are being used in many parts of the world not only to acidify marinades but also to impart a creamy flavor. Here's my recipe for homemade yogurt.

The aromatic component of marinades refers to the blend of herbs and spices used. Aromatics serve to impart the dominant and distinctive taste of the marinade. Herbs also as rich sources of nutrients and antioxidants. Here are the common aromatics used in different parts of the world:

  • Asian marinades typically use much of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and lemongrass.
  • Chinese marinades commonly use garlic, ginger and green onions.
  • French marinades make use of what is known as mirepoix which is a combination of minced onions, celery and carrots.
  • Latin marinades have an abundance of chilies, cumin, garlic and lime juice.
  • Other aromatic herbs and spices that can be sneaked into marinades include oregano, parsley, bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns and juniper berries. Hints of sweetness can be imparted by nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • Intensely-flavored aromatics that are good for marinades include Tabasco sauce, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and fish sauces (such as the Filipino patis).

Fats do more than just lend a rich mouth-feel to cooked meats. Fats serve to seal off the surface of the meat so as to minimize moisture loss during grilling. Fats also trap moisture within the meat to make it tender and juicy.

  • Olive oil is commonly used in Mediterranean marinades as it penetrates deeper and faster into the meat.
  • Flavored nut oils are especially good oils to use and include sesame oil and hazelnut oil.
  • Yogurt is both an acidifying and fatty component as it has dairy fat.

To wrap it all up, a marinade recipe should have all three components present to make your meaty dishes sing. There should be acids to facilitate penetration of the marinade into the meat, aromatics to lend flavor and fats to make the meat tender and oozing with yummy juices.

Nov 18, 2014

10 Tips on Marinating Meat


grilled fish
In my previous blog post I told of my intention to stock up on some common and uncommon spices. I have done that already -- bought a dozen spices -- a few of which I have tried cooking with. I'll be blogging about that soon. I’m still learning the ropes of using herbs though, and part of the learning process entails knowing how to marinate meat using seasonings and spices.

Marinating meat before cooking enhances the flavor, tenderizes the texture, improves the aroma and most important of all, neutralizes the hazardous substances that are released when meat is grilled. However, marinating can either make or break your dish.

Here are some tips from the pros on how to marinate different types of meats:

  1. Chop first. Before marinating, cut or chop the meat into desired sizes. There should be no more slicing after marinating.
  2. Follow your marinade recipe. Remember the Filipino homemaker’s aversion from following recipes? Marinades are an exception as these recipes should be strictly followed if you want to avoid spoiling of the meat. Check to see if the three components of a marinade are all present -- seasoning, herbs/spices and acidifying agent such as lemons and vinegar.
  3. Rub. Take time to rub the marinade mixture thoroughly on all surfaces of the meat so as to maximize contact of the marinade ingredients with the meat.
  4. Choose the right container. Your marinating container should be non-reactive. Aluminum and other metallic ware are not recommended as metals react with acids in the marinade, ruining the flavor and releasing potentially toxic substances from the metal container. Ideal marinating containers are glass and ceramic. For some, a resealable plastic bag is convenient in that one can easily turn the mixture over several times and thus coat all surfaces of the meat with the marinade.
  5. Refrigerate marinated meat. Never marinate meat at room temperature. As soon as you’re done immersing the meat in the marinade, transfer to the refrigerator.
  6. Observe the correct marinating times. How long you marinate meat depends on the type and size of the meat. Generally, these are the marinating time durations:
  • Fish and seafood must be marinated no less than 15 minutes and no more than 1 hour.
  • Chicken, turkey or any bird must be marinated from 30 minutes to 3 hours.
  • All kinds of red meat -- pork, beef, lamb or veal -- should be marinated overnight, or for 12 to 14 hours.
  1. Treat marinated meat as raw meat. When it’s time to cook, handle marinated meat the way you would raw meat. Marinated meat is not pre-cooked meat and thus may harbor bacteria.
  2. Do not poke meat while grilling. Do not fork or make holes in the meat prior to cooking as holes will allow marinade juices to ooze out during grilling, leaving your grilled dish dry.
  3. Be careful with the marinade mixture. A common mistake often committed during grilling is the use of the leftover marinade as a basting material. Leftover marinade contains bacteria from raw meat and using it to baste the meat during grilling will result in contamination.
  4. Use marinade correctly. In general, leftover marinade should just be discarded. However, some recipes do call for the use of the marinade mixture, but always it involves cooking the marinade thoroughly. Some recipes, for example, require pan-frying the meat in the marinade mixture or else simmering the marinade for at least 10 minutes so as to be used as an accompanying sauce.

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