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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Basil, the scent of Summer

Just saying the word basil makes me close my eyes and take a deep breath through my nose, as if I’m holding a bouquet of freshly picked basil and inhaling that sweet and spicy scent. I love basil. I love that there are so many varieties of basil! From Dark Opal, Pesto Purpetuo to Lemon, Genovese, Cinnamon, Lime, Purple Ruffles, Christmas, Thai, Tulsi, and Spicy Globe Bush, plus more, there’s a basil variety for every mood and cuisine.

When you’re using basil in a recipe, remember that it will start oxidizing immediately. This is not a good thing in basil’s case. Oxidation for basil means it’s losing flavor. By contrast, oxidation for garlic is a good thing. It means it’s stabilizing garlic’s beneficial compounds making it ready to be introduced to heat. For basil, chop it just before adding it to your recipe to maintain peak flavor. Basil’s distinctive flavor matches well with citrus and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut and avocado. But, butter loves basil too and corn on the cob slathered with basil butter is a Summer must in my book.

This week I’m sharing my recipe for Green Pea & Basil Hummus. This recipe is super versatile. Not only do I use it as a dip and a spread to flavor bread or sandwiches, but I’ve used it as a filling with sliced potatoes for my vegetarian Calzones. It can be thinned out to be a salad dressing, left as is for a pasta sauce and tastes amazing mixed with boiled potatoes for a green potato salad! When basil season is over, I make this recipe with spinach instead of basil. I always have frozen peas on hand, for a variety of dishes, but also so I’m ready to make this no-cook, healthy recipe. I like lemon with basil but you can certainly substitute limes, if you have some juicy ones waiting to be used. If you want to use the hummus for multiple dishes, I recommend doubling this recipe. A single recipe makes enough for a nice amount of dip but won’t give you enough for another use.

If you don’t have (or don’t like) tahini, you can use cannellini beans instead. Tahini is super healthy and also a good fat. Sesame seeds are loaded with good things. I like the Soom Foods brand of tahini. They’re sisters from Philly of Israeli descent and make a great product. But cannellini beans are super healthy too, so it’s a win win. If I’m making this hummus with spinach, I amp up the garlic. But for basil, I tone it down. And since basil is so distinctive, you can omit the cumin if you’re not a fan. Since this recipe is made in the food processor, it’s fine to include the upper stems of the basil. They have just as much flavor as the leaves. Just don’t use the lower, woodier stems.

Green Pea & Basil Hummus

Recipe by Chef Kelly Unger

1 cup frozen peas, rinsed in warm water and drained

2 tablespoons Tahini or ½ cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Zest and juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes

½ cup packed basil leaves (or baby spinach)

1 clove garlic for basil, 2-3 for spinach

⅛ teaspoon ground cumin (optional) for basil, ¼ teaspoon for spinach

½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until nearly smooth, about 30 seconds. Enjoy!

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