Healthy Eating: Tomatoes and basil are for more than just pasta

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tomato and basilTomatoes and basil ripening and ready to be eaten is a celebration for me. I’m the only one in my household that likes raw tomatoes (unbelievable?!) so when they are fresh picked from the vine, I am in heaven. Basil and tomatoes go hand in hand–combining these two ingredients with fresh mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil is a dream on a plate. A simple summer meal. Add a fresh loaf of crusty bread to soak up the fixings.

Basil and tomatoes are both nutrition champions. Like so many herbs, basil is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Its volatile oils have been shown to slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria such as staphylococcus, including drug-resistant strains. Eugenol, present in basil and several other herbs and spices, inhibits COX, an enzyme related to inflammation. It also protects liver cells, and is excellent for cognitive functioning, healthy sleep, memory and mental energy. Altogether, a star-studded herb to promote longevity and brain health.

Despite technically being a fruit, the tomato is generally categorized as a vegetable. Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxident lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K.

I always thought basil was about pesto and pasta. In fact, I usually devote at least half of my basil harvest to variations on pesto (i.e. use walnuts, pecans or pistachios instead of pine nuts; use goat cheese, pecorino or asiago instead of parmigiano-reggiano; add parsley, kale or spinach in addition to the basil.) But there are many other uses for this wonderful leafy green.

Because basil is part of the mint family, it can can swap roles with mint, with intriguing results. Toss basil with green beans or baby roasted fingerling potatoes. Try it with fish, shellfish, eggs, summer fruits and sorbet.

Both of these “sauces” can be used as a condiment or dressing that brightens and brings out the flavor in anything you put it on top of: grilled vegetables, fresh tomatoes, chicken, fish, pork, shrimp, pasta, fresh mozzarella or feta cheese, and even hummus or other bean spreads. You are only limited by your imagination.

Basil Lemon Sauce

Makes about 1⁄2 cup

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended.

Basil Vinaigrette
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon lemon
1 tablespoon water
1 small shallot peeled and finely diced.
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon kosher or flaky sea salt
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1. Put the olive oil, vinegar, water, shallot, mustard, and salt in a blender. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and immediately put them in the blender.

2. Cover the blender and mix on high-speed for 15 to 30 seconds until the vinaigrette is smooth. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a little more water or olive oil to thin it out.

Serving and storage: The basil vinaigrette and sauce can be used right away or will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. It’s best served at room temperature. Due to the oxidation qualities of basil it may darken over time.

Deborah Binder— By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share here experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at jaideborah@yahoo.com.

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