My kids love Pasta Pesto. It is a lunch box staple, which I have always prepared using the bottled Organic Pesto from Auroville.
However on my recent visit to Econut for my Organic provisions, I struck it lucky with a big bag full of fresh basil. I just couldn’t resist. I picked up a bag full of organic walnuts and extra virgin olive oil as well.
Although pesto is traditionally made with Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, I decided to do a more economical version with walnuts and skipped the cheese altogether.
I guess here in India one would say I made a chutney.
Holy Basil or Tulsi is revered in India in every Hindu household, especially in those of Vishnu devotees.
Read this wonderful story from Hindu Mythology about the Tulsi plant here.
However the Christians, too, consider Basil holy especially the Greek Orthodox Church.
St.Helena, was born somewhere in the region of modern-day Turkey. Although just a stabularia or inn-keeper she married Constantius I Chlorus in 270 BC. They had a son Constantine.
As Constantius became co-regent or Ceasar, he had to, for political gain, forsake Helena and marry the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinius Herculius.
Disgraced in a court that was full of intrigue and murder, Helena never fought her rival but faded into obscurity till her own son Constantine became Emperor. She then was bestowed with the title of Augusta or Empress.
Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Legend says that he had a dream of a burning cross with a message that he should ‘in this sign conquer’. So he did, earning control over western Europe.
They say it was Constantine’s influence on his mother that made her too, embrace Christianity. She mingled freely with worshippers did many acts of charity and released prisoners too.
Although she was pretty advanced in age, Helena set out on a pilgrimage to Palestine, visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Sinai. She built many churches and continued her charity work.
She was very keen to find the ‘True Cross’….the cross on which Jesus had been crucified.
She had been searching for many days, when on a barren hill outside Jerusalem she noticed a sweet-smelling plant. That plant happened to be Basil. She gave orders that the area under the plant be excavated and found the True Cross.
So to this day, especially in the Greek Orthodox Church,Sweet basil is used in the preparation of Holy water.
Two religions, both have reasons why this plant is so special…..and there are many more cultures that venerate the Basil. In many other cultures like Mexico, Romania and Italy it is associated with love.
Not just a ‘holy herb’, but also one which is full of health benefits!
It is one of the most highly regarded herbs in Ayurveda.
“Scientific research offers impressive evidence that Tulsi (basil) reduces stress, enhances stamina, relieves inflammation, lowers cholesterol, eliminates toxins, protects against radiation, prevents gastric ulcers, lowers fevers, improves digestion and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients. Tulsi is especially effective in supporting the heart, blood vessels, liver and lungs and also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.” Dr. Ralph Miller, former Director of Research for the Canadian Dept. of Health and Welfare.
Makes me wonder at how religion often guided people towards what was good for them, not just spiritually but also physically and emotionally. The environment, too, benefited from many of the old rituals which ensured its protection.
Although I am not a regular church goer, my deeply Catholic upbringing, ensures that I have a prayer on my lips often. From this ability to just utter a silent prayer, I drawer a lot of strength. It has a calming meditative value about it which I treasure.
So here is the recipe I used to make Basil and Walnut Pesto:
Adapted from http://cookieandkate.com
- 2 lightly packed cup of basil
- 2 garlic clove, peeled
- 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- salt, to taste
- squeeze of lemon juice
- Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
- Wash and dry the basil leaves
- In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
- Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil. Do not over mix as I felt the pesto gets darker.
- Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.
I did not add in the cheese as I felt it would keep better this way.
When I made it for lunch, I added some grated cheese to the ready dish.
- Pesto freezes well, so you can make a larger quantity and freeze for later use.
- Traditionally made by hand in a mortar and pestle…..I did not have one large enough to take this quantity so I just made it in the mixie.
- Make the pesto as soon as you get fresh basil.
- I replaced the traditional pine nuts with walnuts…..it’s just as tasty.
Use it as:
- A pasta sauce.
- Marinade for grilled fish of chicken.
- Stirred as a flavouring into soups.
- Sandwich spread.
- Healthy pizza sauce alternative.
Do you use pesto in any other way??
I’d love some new ideas