When the boyfriend and I first started dating, one of his Thai friends would very sweetly bring him a bunch of holy basil whenever she went shopping at the local Thai market. At the time, I didn’t have any clue what this strange herb was or what to do with it. So it just sat on his countertop, wilting away day after day…
Recounting this story now is just painful and embarrassing. Now that I know what holy basil is, I’ll go to great lengths to find it, including driving an hour plus in heavy traffic to the less-than-pristine neighborhoods where the Thai markets reside (don’t worry Dad, the boyfriend always comes with me!).
So what makes this herb so worth seeking out? I guess it’s the unique flavor that just can’t be substituted with any other type of basil. If I had to describe it, the flavor of holy basil would be somewhere between basil and mint with a strong kick of pepper. It’s really one of those herbs that until you’ve tried it, it’s hard to know exactly what it tastes like. But once you’ve had it, you’ll never forget it.
Holy basil is used in several different Thai dishes, but probably the most famous is gai pad grapow, which translates to chicken stir-fried with holy basil. It’s a very common street food in Thailand, sort of like the hamburger here in America. And it’s really easy to make, just like its American counterpart. You need only chicken or some other protein, garlic, chilis, holy basil, and a few Thai seasoning sauces (dark soy sauce being indispensible, the others can vary depending on your tastes).
You start by sauteeing the garlic and chilis, then add your protein, season with dark black soy sauce and whatever other sauces you prefer, add the holy basil, and you’re done! Really, that’s it. To make it a little prettier, I threw in a few strips of a red jalapeno pepper with the holy basil, but that’s definitely optional.
One thing that is not optional for the boyfriend is a fried egg on top. To make this, just heat a good bit of oil until it’s super hot and then crack an egg into it. Fry it quickly on both sides and place on top of the dish. Not being Thai myself, I appreciate the dish even without the egg.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to try holy basil, I hope that you do soon! And if a friend is nice enough to bring some to you, please please do better than I did years ago and make some gai pad grapow with it!