Basil, Theophrastus‘ and Dioskorides‘ ocimom (ώκιμον), lat. ocimum basilicum. The word basil comes from the Greek word vasileus (βασιλεύς)= king because it was believed to have grown above the spot where Constantine the Great and his mother Helen discovered the Holy Cross. And the King of Christians is Jesus.
The plant is originated in tropical Asia and needs sunlight and warmth to flourish. Many varieties are cultivated in Greece, with small or broad leaves. Among them, the curly small leaved basil with the intense aroma is used raw or cooked and the broad leaved variety, which is called also “Italian basil”, is used for dolmades.
Basil is used in the traditional cuisine of Ionian islands and Western Crete, though the sweet and aromatic fragrance seems to be more popular in the past than it is today. Today, the plant is mainly grown for its aroma. Pots of basil appear on the windowsills or verandas, bushes of basil are growing in gardens just like the past, but basil has lost much of its importance in food. However, it is still used over grilled vegetables (Ionian islands) and in the filling for dolmades and stuffed vegetables joins the parsley, wild fennel, and mint (Ionian islands, Western Crete). In coastal areas on the northern Chania and Rethymno (Crete) it is sprinkled over Greek salad as an alternative of purslane. Tomato, cucumber and onion slices topped with fresh creamy myzithra cheese and basil leaves, seasoned with highest quality olive oil and few drops of vinegar, together with some fresh bread, make a perfect, light summer meal. As summer is always a good excuse for pasta dish, raw basil is used as a final garnish in an uncooked tomato sauce.
Until the end of 60ies basil was added at the middle of the cooking of several yiahni (snails; broad beans; potatoes with or without bulgur), or orzo dishes and at the end of the cooking of a tomato sauce that was spread over fried potatoes or vegetables. The leaves of the curly basil chopped into an omelet garnished with fresh tomatoes gave a wonderful flavor and the stuffed leaves of italian basil became the most delicate and aromatic dolmades. It is amazing that basil is less used in modern Cretan cooked dishes because its strong aroma is counted disadvantage, when the industrial type of Ligurian pesto becomes fossilised in daily cooking.
Some maintain that basil leaves should be torn, not be cut with a knife, because metal causes browning. In fact browning is caused both by cut and torn as a result of oxidation by enzymes in the basil itself. However oxidation can be avoided by cutting it at the last minute and consuming it as quickly as possible.
75 washed large basil leaves
2 cups medium grain rice
1 medium tomato, peeled and finely diced
1 small zucchini, grated
2 large onions, grated
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tbs wild fennel, finely chopped
freshly ground pepper
juice of 2 lemons
virgin olive oil
2 large potatoes cut into thin slices
Wash the rice and put it in a bowl. Add tomato, zucchini, onions, parsley, fennel and olive oil, as much as you like. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Boil some water and soak the leaves for less than a second, then rinse and lay them on the work surface. Place a small amount of rice at the end of each leaf and fold over it, so that the rice is partly covered.
Fold the two sides of the leaf into the middle and roll the dolma toward the other end. Cover the base of a pan with the potatoes and tightly arrange the filled basil leaves in circles. Sprinkle with lemon juice pour over some olive oil and water to cover. Use a large plate to press these very small dolmades, to prevent them from coming open. Cook over medium heat until the rice is soft and the water has been absorbed. Serve hot or cold, with fine extra-strained yogurt if you like.