Aspiring chefs, people looking to impress their significant other, or just anyone that wants to learn how to make wonderful dishes from different cultures, should definitely learn about Thai cuisine. Food in Thailand, like in most Asian cultures, is a very big deal and is as much about ceremony and presentation as it is about flavor and nutrition. A Thai chefs goal is to create a dish that strikes the best balance between looking beautiful, smelling wonderful, and having a variety of strong taste sensations that can be easily experienced and distinguished between one another. Obviously, herbs and spices are the main component that can be played around with, but one in particular – Thai holy basil – is revered highly among culinary masters; both for its pungency and for its pedigree.
Tulasi – as the plant is also called – is used in a wide variety of Thai dishes. When used in cooking, the leaves of tulasi, as well as the completed dish cooked with said leaves, are called kraphao. A kraphao dish basically consists of some kind of meat stir fried with a variety of vegetables, garlic, and a generous portion of holy basil, then served alongside some plain white rice. Kraphao is by no means the only dish that uses tulasi in some way however. The herb is used in stews, entrées, and even some drinks or desserts. The addition of this plant in all of these recipes is a deeply-rooted tradition that dates back to the early days of Thailand, where the plant was used and consumed in a ceremonial way.
Nowadays, the uses for tulasi are seen as practical and health-related. Of course, a big part of the appeal of the holy basil plant is still its ceremonial properties; as evidenced by the fact that it is grown in many places outside of buildings as a sort of spiritual signifier. That being the case, there is still much to be said for the highly palatable components of the plant that make it such a popular choice for a food herb. So, if you are starting to learn how to cook, or just want to be able to cook fantastic Southeast Asian dishes, make it a priority to get yourself some holy basil. Even if you cannot get other elements of the dish just right, the addition of the tulasi flavor and smell will still make the dish appealing.