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Video: Making Healthier Salad Dressings

healthy salad dressing videoFor healthier salad dressings substitute the vinegar with lemon juice. It adds loads of vitamin C, minerals and limonene – a phytochemical that shows promising anticancer activities. It also improves the flavour of the herbs; vinegar has an overpowering tendency.

Also substitute the seed oil with the best quality olive oil you can afford for better flavour and for healthy omega-9’s. Ot use fat-free yoghurt for a zero fat salad dressing.

And don’t forget to go really overboard on the fresh herbs, especially garlic and parsley, to give your immune system a really good boost.

Here’s Jamie Oliver’s Zero Fat Salad Dressing. He uses fat free yoghurt, hot English mustard and basil to make a really delicious and healthy salad dressing.

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How To Grow and Use Sweet Basil

photo of sweet basil leaves
Sweet basil (or Basil to his friends) is the undisputed king of the culinary herbs.

Sweet basil, also known as basilie and basiliekruid, originated in India, where it is regarded as a herb sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. It is thought to protect against evil and every Hindu is buried with a leaf of basil – a tulasi – on his or her breast.

How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking

Best used fresh (dried basil does not have the same flavour, a minty taste predominates), sweet basil has a pungent, aromatic and spicy flavour that resembles cloves. It’s an outstanding choice as a home cuisine herb and you can never have too many sweet basil plants growing in your garden.

Sweet basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce. You can also add sweet basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta and pasta sauces and salads. It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.

Always add it just before serving to cooked dishes as its flavour diminishes with cooking. Pound it with a bit of olive oil or tear it with the fingers, rather than chopping it. Sweet basil combines well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage.

How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy

Sweet basil is used extensively in aromatherapy for ailments such as stress, migraine, colds and hay fever. It has antispasmodic, appetizing, carminative, galactagogue and stomachic properties. It is quite effective for tension headaches, exhaustion and digestive upsets such as stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and enteritis.

Make an infusion by adding 2 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1/2 cup boiling-hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink hot. Take three times a day.

Sweet basil is also used in flower therapy for those who tend to separate spirituality from sexuality, believing the two cannot be integrated.

Traditionally the dried leaves were pounded and, taken as snuff, used as a remedy for colds.

How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care

You can make an invigorating beauty bath by adding a strong infusion of fresh basil leaves to your bath. Use 1 cup chopped basil leaves in 2 cups boiling-hot water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Then add to bath.How To Use Sweet Basil as a Companion Plant

Sweet Basil is a most beneficial companion for your other plants. In particular it enhances the flavour of summer savory and it helps tomatoes to grow larger and more flavoursome.

It’s a good insect repellant for white fly, aphids and fruit fly. A pot of basil, set on a windowsill near an open window, will prevent flies from entering the room through the window.

Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘… something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another.’ – but in our experience they are quite happy bedfellows.

You can set pots on windowsills and in open doorways to deter flies, or you can add a few leaves to the barbeque fire to deter moths. You can also grow it as an attractive pot plant for the patio.

How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is a tender annual that grows about 40-60cm high. It prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position. Protect your sweet basil against cold winds and frost. Space the plants about 30cm apart and pinch out the growing tips and flower heads to encourage a bushy habit.

Sweet Basil is propagated from seed and young plants can be purchased from nurseries to plant in your herb garden.

Harvesting and Preserving Your Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil is such a vigorous herb that you’ll always have an abundant harvest to share with others.

Don’t try to dry your sweet basil as the flavour is not the same as fresh basil. You can keep the leaves briefly in plastic bags in the refrigerator or you can preserve them in olive oil or vinegar. To freeze you can puree the leaves with a little water and freeze them in ice cube trays or you can cover both sides with olive oil and freeze them whole.

Purple Splash Basil Vinegar

Definitely one of our favourite basil preservation recipes. Not only because it is a lovely pink, but because the vinegar preserves the flavour of the basil exceptionally as well. We use purple splash in our marinades, salads, stir fries and home-made mustards.

For the bathroom we make it with apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse and to add to the bath water. It restores the natural acid mantle of the skin and hair and is exceptionally good for dry, itchy skin – traditional winter skin.

Learn how to make your own herbal vinegar.

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Insalata Caprese – Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Much like chilli peppers, basil is an obsession in our food garden and in our cooking. This recipe is one of the first we make every year when the basil starts overflowing with abundance and the first tomatoes ripens on the vines. It’s also the recipe we probably make most during the course of the growing season.

caprese salad with fresh basil
An old time favourite! Caprese salad with fresh basil.

Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri or Tomato and Mozzarella Salad) is a simple salad from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes and basil. Balsamic vinegar, good olive oil, salt and pepper make up the dressing.

According to Wikipedia, ideally, the mozzarella is “di bufala campana“, the olive oil is “extra virgin” from the peninsula of “Sorrento” and the tomatoes and basil are grown in the full sun of the “mezzogiorno“.

This is one of those recipes that celebrates simple food, local produce and healthy eating. It simply bursts with flavour and it is packed with protective antioxidant nutrients and health promoting phytonutrients. It also provides nearly a third of your daily vitamin A and vitamin C requirements and also nearly half of your calcium requirements.

Use tomatoes of any type as long as they burst with flavour. Vine-ripened tomatoes from your own organic food garden are best. You really need top-quality tomatoes for this salad, so if you don’t have any, rather make another salad instead.

Serve Insalata Caprese as an appetizer, or as a side dish. And by the way, the colours of the salad is that of the Italian flag.

Buon appetito!

tomato mozzarella salad

Insalata Caprese
Prep time
Total time
Serve the salad immediately or cover and set aside at room temperature for an hour or so to allow the flavours to develop. When serving later, dress with only half the oil and vinegar.
Recipe type: Salad
Serves: 4
  • 4 large ripe, full-flavoured tomatoes
  • 225 g mozzarella cheese
  • 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 ml balsamic vinegar
  • 75 ml fresh basil leaves, shredded fine
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Cut the tomatoes into thin (about 3 - 5 mm) slices and slice to mozzarella to a similar thickness.
  2. Sprinkle your serving plate with a dash of salt and a twist of black pepper.
  3. Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in slightly overlapping circles on the seasoned serving plate.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle over shredded basil leaves.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.

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Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe

Basil pesto sauce is as indispensable to pasta lovers as chili is to chili lovers. Tossed with freshly cooked pasta it makes a fabulous meal. It also compliments a wide variety of other foods making it a must have in any cook’s pantry.

This recipe by Chef Jerry Traunfeld, author of The Herb Farm Cookbook, is the best blender-made basil pesto sauce recipe I’ve tried to date. Follow the directions below to the letter; and you’ll also end up with a perfectly balanced fragrant and sultry pesto sauce.

Making it by hand with a mortar and pestle surely gives the better pesto sauce. But with a blender you can make a perfectly good batch of pesto in just a few minutes. And with very little effort.

Basil Pesto Sauce

Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sweet basil leaves, gently packed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a food processor (or hand held blender), process the garlic, pine nuts and salt until finely ground. About 15 seconds.
  2. Add the basil leaves to the bowl and process in spurts until no whole leaves remain.
  3. With the machine running, pour the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Stop and scrape down the sides, then process for several more seconds. The mixture should be ground to a paste-like consistency but a little bit of the leaves' texture should remain. If necessary, quickly pulse the mixture again.
  4. Add the cheese and pulse until just incorporated.
  5. Serve immediately.


Follow Jerry Traunfeld (@poppyseatle) on Twitter and get a copy of his The Herb Farm Cookbook.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pesto Sauce

What is Pesto Sauce?

Pesto is a classic cold Italian basil sauce from Genoa. It’s a bright green, aromatic and full-flavoured sauce with a thick pouring consistency. The name ‘pesto’ comes from the original method of preparing the basil by pounding it with a pestle in a mortar.

What is in Pesto Sauce?

The classic Italian pesto is simply fresh basil leaves pounded with a bit of salt, a handful of pine nuts, some grated Parmesan cheese, and some richly flavoured olive oil.

Can I Freeze Pesto Sauce?

Though nothing compares to a batch of freshly made pesto it does have excellent keeping qualities. You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and for longer storage you can freeze it for up to 6 months.

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A Master Pesto Recipe

Using the basic pesto-making technique with a wider variety of herbs and added ingredients is very popular with chefs, home cooks and food bloggers. Especially with those that have a herb garden. It makes perfect sense for processing a bumper crop of say rocket, parsley or marjoram.

Almost any fresh herb, nut, oil or hard cheese can be combined in the same fashion to produce a pesto style sauce. Just remember that the fresh flavour of the herbs is intensified when the leaves are pounded. So be careful with those that become bitter or unpleasantly intense.

Your Aims When Making a Pesto-style Sauce

Your primary aim is to produce a balanced, aromatic, full flavoured pesto-style sauce to compliment a specific dish. Choose your flavour combinations wisely and don’t let the pesto overpower the dish.

Your secondary aim is to produce a pesto with a thick pouring consistency. Bear that in mind when you get to the oil.

master pesto recipe

Master Pesto Recipe
  • 1 part nuts
  • Garlic, if using, to taste
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 4 parts fresh herbs
  • 1 part oil
  • ½ part grated hard cheese
  1. Substitute the parts with any convenient measure. A ¼ cup measure works nicely for developing new recipes.
  2. When adding garlic, always add in the beginning with the nuts and salt.
  3. Follow the directions for making a machine-made version or the hand-made version.
  4. The ratios are not cast in cement as different nuts, herbs and hard cheeses have varying oil and moisture contents. Play around a bit.
Tip: When choosing an oil to use in a pesto recipe I use the same criteria as for choosing an oil to use in a salad dressing. First of all it must compliment the other ingredients. Next is that I can eat the oil by the spoonful. Simply because, like salad dressing, I love eating pesto by the spoonful.

Hungry for more pesto ideas? Feast on these…

Making pesto with a blender.

Making pesto by hand.

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Our Favourite Basil Pesto Recipe

Making basil pesto by hand – with a mortar and pestle – arguably produces a far tastier end result than making pesto with a food blender.

For starters, the consistency is different. It’s coarser than the blender-made version. At the same time it’s silky and emulsified. The colour is different as well, more of a creamy shade of olive than bright green.

Most importantly it tastes better, having a rounder, fuller more balanced flavour.

“Perhaps the best reason for making pesto by hand is for the pleasure of the process. You’ll see the separate ingredients slowly transform in unctuous sauce. You’ll smell the powerful clove, mint, and licorice fragrances of the basil as it combines with the garlic and cheese. And you’ll listen to the soft pounding and grinding of the pestle instead of the unyielding whir of an electric motor.” – Chef Jerry Traunfeld, author of The Herb Farm Cookbook

Chef Traunfeld is also the creator of this pesto recipe. And just like his machine-made version it makes the best basil pesto we’ve ever tasted. Follow his recipe to the letter and you’ll also end up with a perfectly balanced fragrant and voluptuous basil pesto.

By the way, if you like this recipe, get yourself a copy of The Herb Farm Cookbook. It’s a must have for any foodie or food professional.

making basil pesto

Our Favourite Basil Pesto Recipe
Prep time
Total time
Makes about 1 cup, enough pesto sauce for a bowl of pasta for 4
Serves: 4
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sweet basil leaves, gently packed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Put the garlic, pine nuts and salt in a large mortar. Use the pestle with a gentle downward pounding action to crush the ingredients and start to form a paste.
  2. Coarsely chop the basil leaves on a cutting board with a sharp knife. Add the leaves to the mortar one handful at a time as you begin to rotate the pestle in a circular grinding movement, working mostly at the bottom of the bowl. From time to time use the pestle to pound the mixture with downward strokes. After several minutes it will start to form a paste.
  3. When all the leaves are added, begin to add the olive oil a little at a time, while continuing to use the pestle with the rotary grinding motion. When all the oil is added, the colour will be lighter and the oil will be suspended in the thick spoonable sauce, but you will still be able to see shreds of the basil leaves. Stir in the cheese.

Hungry for more pesto recipes? Try these…

More Resources
Follow Chef Jerry Traunfeld (@poppyseatle) on Twitter
Get a copy of The Herb Farm Cookbook by Chef Traunfeld at your favourite book store.