Thai basil and hot, HOT peppers!

Sunday, September 17, 2006
This is how our plot looks these days. To some people, it might look like an unruly bunch of weeds, but I like to think of it as... lush... and... productive. Yeah, that's what we'll call it. Productive!

In amongst all of the productiveness is our Thai basil plant. We started this from a transplant that was about 4 inches tall. It's now about 2 feet tall and at least as wide. I like its purple flowers and decided awhile ago to stop deadheading them.

So the Thai basil has been growing like crazy and all along I've been wondering what to make with it. The obvious answer is Thai food, but I don't have much experience with Asian cooking and I often feel intimidated by recipes that call for unfamiliar things like fish sauce, red curry paste, hot chili peppers and so on. While I do enjoy Thai food quite a bit, I've always felt it was best to leave it to the pros at the restaurants. And Washington, D.C. certainly has a decent selection of Thai restaurants. But even so, I thought, why grow this enormous Thai basil bush and then not cook with it? So I had to give it a whirl.

I found this recipe for Spicy Chicken and Basil Stir-Fry on Williams-Sonoma's Web site and thought it wouldn't be too complicated. The only new-to-me ingredient was the fish sauce, and it called for 3/4 cup of Thai basil. Perfect.

The recipe also called for three other ingredients that I was able to use from our garden: scallions, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. My husband loves jalapeño peppers and will eat them in all forms -- fresh, cooked, pickled -- you name it; the heat doesn't bother him one bit. As for me? Well... let's just say... I am a little more sensitive to hot peppers than he is. Read on.

The recipe calls for one or two jalapeños. I decided to play it safe and just use one. While I was cutting the pepper, I remembered the time when I had my first dreadful encounter with a jalapeño. It was in a bowlful of salsa made by two of my former roommates who were Mexican-American. And let's just say... they liked their salsa extra, extra picante! I found out the hard way and they seemed quite amused when I had to put my tastebuds on ice afterwards. Painful. Very painful.

So cutting the pepper, I wondered if the ones we grew in our own garden were even all that hot, and... can you see where this is going? As I was scraping away the inner membrane of the pepper (which is said to be the hottest part, by the way), I decided to take a little taste. I did no more than touch a tiny piece of it to my tongue and... YYYEEEEOOOOOOUUUWWWWW!! It's hot! It's hot! Get some milk! Drink milk! Oh, the milk trick isn't working for me! (Let me guess, it doesn't work with skim?!) Get ice! Get ice! My mouth is burrrrning!!

Fifteen minutes later, I am still standing in the middle of the kitchen -- lips are bright, burning red and I am sucking on an ice cube. Michael comes home and sees me in this state of severe pain. "What's wrong?," he asked. And all I had to do was point to the cutting board where the offending pepper remained in its partially cut-up state, and he knew. "Did you eat some bread? Try some bread; it will remove the jalapeño oil from your lips." So I tried that and, thank goodness it worked.

And this was supposed to be all about the Thai basil, right?

Well, after that traumatic run-in with the jalapeño, I only used a tiny bit -- maybe one quarter of it -- in this recipe. It turned out great, although... would you believe?... After all that, we thought it could have used a little more kick. It needed more spiciness to make it taste like real Thai. But I was a little apprehensive after that taste-test incident, you know?

This goes down with the distinction of being The Most Painful Dish I made with our garden ingredients all summer. It is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted by Piperita in Italy at The Kitchen Pantry. Visit her site on Monday for a roundup of hopefully-less-painful-to-make recipes.


Blogger Carol Michel said...

I think your garden looks good, especially for this time of year. I assume you wore rubber gloves to handle the jalapeno!

6:17 PM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Sounds delicious to me. I love, love, love Thai basil. This year when I bought basil I never did find any plants.

Your garden looks great. If you think it's unruly, I should send you a photo of my garden right now!

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christa, let me tell from unfortunate experience...if you think it hurt your lips, just imagine what it feels like when it gets in your eye! I love hot peppers, too, but the one time I accidentally rubbed my eye after cutting one just about turned me off to cooking with them. I've recovered and rebounded, but still...

I love your Thai basil plant! It's gorgeous, and I love the flavor of Thai basil. Your recipe looks delicious!

The Inadvertent Gardener

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could even say you plot is fecund - and no it's not an insult!
Looks great for mid Sept.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Christa said...

Fecund. That's a good word for it. My plot is definitely fecund!

Oh, gosh, Genie, I can't even imagine jalapeno oil in the eye! How horrible! I had to use the ice to numb my lips because the pain was absolutely unbearable. If I had it in the eye, I'd be in the emergency room for sure!

Carol, no, I didn't wear rubber gloves but I learned my lesson. It might be awhile before I cook with jalapenos again.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

After 7 years in Texas my tolerance for hot things has increased, but instead of catching up with my husband, he keeps loping ahead of me. He'd have just munched up that japapeno, Christa!

Your chicken with Thai basil and garlic sounds wonderful. What would happen if you made the Thai basil into pesto, sort of like regular basil?

The garden picture is very cool, but I won't go for 'fecund' - stick to 'abundant' instead!


BTW I knew the 'bread trick' but it didn't work in one Indian restaurant - even the bread had hot peppers and spices in it.

12:09 PM  
Blogger sher said...

I think you garden looks fabulous!! You know, many people try to get their yards to look like yours. I have also had hot pepper oil in my eyes. Not fun.

6:52 PM  
Blogger iml said...

An easier recipe would be this:
Once the wok is hot
Add in 2 Tbsp oil stri fry the garlic
then the marinated chicken(a dash of wine, soya, sugar, pepper) parts
Give a stir or two till chicken parts look browned, add in the thai basil
Cover the wok for 5 min
flavour the dish with a bit of oyster sauce
thicken the gravy with cornflour.
Once it simmers serve

1:09 AM  
Blogger JMom said...

LOL! I was laughing my butt off while reading your post :D
Your garden is very lush, although I do like fecund too.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

Annie in Austin,
My husband is like yours in that he can eat a jalapeno like it's a snack. I've never tried Thai basil in pesto. This was the first time I've ever cooked with Thai basil. It might be interesting to try it with pesto on rice noodles or egg noodles -- a little different than the usual pasta dish.

Thank you for the recipe. The easier, the better!

If it was funny to read the post, you should have seen me when it happened! LOL!

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, hope you don't mind. Found this entry on google looking on what was needed to grow a pepper plant.

I've got some thai basil I just started growing and I was curious how long it took your plant to grow that big (I hope I can get mine that successful :) )?

Oh yeah, and basil chicken is awesome (sadly, it's my biggest reason for wanting a thai basil plant. And one reason why I love serrano peppers).

3:56 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

It took about four months to grow the plant that big, but you could probably get a good amount of basil in two months. The plants thrive in sunny hot weather so this one did well for us in late summer. Good luck with yours!

5:29 PM  

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