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Basil, the Hard Way; and a Raita recipe

Basil_opposite Having just finished a major work deadline, I've been recuperating by taking it easy. Summer is in full swing here, mentally, emotionally, and seasonally. But life still is fraught with little challenges. This afternoon, an old lady at the Park Slope Food Coop called me a "prick." I didn't feel like that was very cooperative of her.

Before I was insulted by my fellow coop member, I was juggling shopping lists--I wanted to buy things for my upcoming beach vacation (organic meats and the like); things for the friends I'm having for brunch tomorrow; and stuff for the week--and I was getting distracted. Did I want to make poached salmon? Or would frittatas be better? I've settled on the latter, especially because I couldn't find any dill for the sauce to go with the fish.

For dinner tonight, I was planning on having a bit of commercial, pre-made Indian food. Santa Maria has become fond of Maya Kaimal's fresh simmer sauce (her favorite: the tamarind curry). I think the sauce is okay: the thing I like most about it is its convenience. There's nothing more to do than open the jar and heat it. The sauce benefits greatly from the addition of a fresh raita, so I looked for basil to make some.

The coop almost always has basil. They display it in a wooden box, with a hinged top. I opened it, and looked in. There was nothing there but a morass of wilting and darkening bunches of greenhouse basil from New Jersey. I decided to pass. Next to the box, however, there was a little display of local organic basil. It was hard to know if this was any good--the first bunch I picked up was most certainly a head of arugula. The coop is staffed by members, and not all members are created equal when it comes to stocking the shelves.

Below the arugula, though, I found a sprightly little bunch of nice green basil. I grabbed it and threw it in my cart, thinking of a Mark Bittman article I had read recently, in which he talked about the magnificence of summer basil. He was beside himself with its intensity and beauty. I liked the article, but I wasn't really buying his assessment that local summer basil is really all that better than regular basil.

Boy was I wrong! The basil was the best I'd ever tasted. It was sharp and sweet at the same time, and had hints of citrus and other flavors that would make a wine writer reach for his thesaurus. It made my raita super delicious, and it made getting called a prick well worth it.

Quick Summer Raita
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped thinly, or grated, roughly
  • 1 cup non fat yogurt
  • 1 fistful of basil, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and enjoy (Note Santa Maria prefers this with cilantro, and adds that it can be made richer by using full fat yogurt and by adding a bit of olive oil).

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