I had never heard of Lime Basil before seeing it at Common Ground High School’s seedling sale in New Haven this spring. Tucked in among a table of various types of basil, it jumped out at me with it’s lime green colored leaves, and its newness intrigued me.
Common Ground High School is tucked away in a woodland area in the West Rock neighborhood, and as the longest-running environmental charter school it prepares students not only for success in college, but also as powerful environmental leaders. We didn’t get a chance to tour the new facility, recently completed at the time of the seedling sale, but the campus itself was impressive, hosting a pen of live farm animals, as well as vast gardens and greenhouses that were filled with plants, ornamental and edible alike.
It was there on a table, outside one of the greenhouses, that I saw the Lime Basil. I hesitated for a moment, almost passing it up and sticking solely to the standard sweet garden basil that we all know and love. I have to confess that I’m not crazy about a lot of the more creative culinary varietals of herbs. Pineapple sage, chocolate mint, cinnamon basil; they often have off-putting, almost synthetic flavors, and are so limiting to me—I mean, how many uses are there for apple mint? I love lime though, and I thought that if lemon thyme works this just might too. I rubbed a small leaf from the plant between two fingers and was instantly hit with the waft of lime zest and basil—the same heavy perfume you’d get from freshly tearing basil in your kitchen just before zesting a bowl of limes, their essential oils unfurling and being sent into the air with every flick against the Microplane. It was heaven.
Scattered over some shrimp, seared in a screaming hot pan, it’s perfect! The soft, slightly buttery and sweet taste of the shrimp, against the backdrop of some mild heat by way of ginger and green chilies, really lets this herb show off; it has all the minty pepperiness of sweet basil, with the aromatic quality of limes, but without acidity. It makes for an incredibly fresh tasting dish that manages the balance of having tons of flavor, but still staying harmonious and clean.
If shrimp isn’t your thing, I think using this herb on chicken would be great; either stuff the stems of a few sprigs into the cavity of a whole chicken with some garlic and maybe a quartered lime or ginger, and serve it alongside a Lime Basil Pesto made from the herb, some garlic, and coconut milk. When I lived in Ann Arbor there was a great restaurant in Kerrytown called Siam Cuisine that served an incredible beef curry with basil—I can only imagine Lime Basil in that. After tasting a lime extra virgin olive oil at a wine festival a few weekends back I’m convinced that my unwillingness to discern the use of lime in Italian food is totally unwarranted; swap the squeezed ginger in this recipe out for extra dry white vermouth (which I would favor over wine here because its winey taste cooks out quicker), and the green chili for red, such as cayenne, and give a small glug of extra virgin at the end—it sounds so right. (I’m not saying here that olive oil and Italian food are two mutually exclusive things, but I still can’t quite break the mental linkage I have between basil and Italy. Throw olive oil into it and… c’mon.) I also love the leaves crushed with a bit of sugar and a spritz of lime in a glass, filled with ice, then topped off with lemon vodka or limoncello and carbonated water. If I have any of the herb left in the garden come fall I have fantasies of a Lime Basil Ice Cream… wait for it.
If you happen upon this plant at the garden center next year grab one (or two… Or three). If you have it growing and you’re scratching your head, wondering what to do with it, give this recipe—or one of the previous suggestions—a try; I think you’ll find yourself hunting it down for Spring 2017. If the multitude of possibilities isn’t enough to grab you, at least let your curiosity get the better of you. It won’t disappoint you… not the way pineapple sage would.
(I don’t mean to pick on pineapple sage—it just underwhelms me mostly. That said, it is a beautiful plant and pollinators love it.)
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