Holy Basil

Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still taste a salad we served at our restaurant in Mexico. It was my favorite. Ripe slices of tomatoes surrounding a mound of creamy strings of Oaxacan cheese dressed with a tangy but sweet basil vinaigrette. One of our signature dishes, I often ate this salad for dinner. It was that good.
Aerial view of Zihuatanejo, Mexico and the Pacific Ocean
But in the years since we returned to San Antonio, I have been challenged to find the perfect basil dressing recipe. The one that transports me back to Zihua. I have tried several times, but never quite got it.

Obviously, the gods were shining on me the other day when I whipped up this basil vinaigrette. It looked right, I thought. The color was spot on. And the texture, too. It was completely emulsified, unlike others I have made. So, just before I opened the blender lid, I closed my eyes and, in one whiff, I swore I was in Zihuatanejo, where it seems like summer all year and the basil is absolutely stunning. So, then I tasted it and I knew I had nailed it.

Fortunately, with all of the rain we have had in San Antonio, my herb garden is going crazy and there has been plenty of basil--which is what inspired me to try making basil vinaigrette again.
My herb garden now.
Freshly planted herbs on March 21
I enjoy using herbs, but the challenge this summer is what to do with the overly abundant crops. Basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, tarragon, lime kaffir leaves and sorrel is what I have growing this year.

Nearly every day, I have been cutting herbs and tossing them with my salad greens. Adding them to scrambled eggs is another good idea and I have been thinking about some sweet ways I can incorporate them into a dessert. Strawberry-basil or cantaloupe-mint sorbet?

For right now, the best way I can think of to use lots of herbs at one time--particularly that basil plant in your garden with heavy branches--is to whip up this sweet, zesty and flavorful basil vinaigrette. It pairs wonderfully with ripe tomatoes and mozzarella, but can also be used to dress mixed green salads, drizzled on top of grilled chicken or fish or with roasted ratatouille.
Cut a few branches and whirl up a jar of this fantastic vinaigrette. I swear you might think you're in Zihuatanejo, too.

Buen provecho!
Basil Vinaigrette
The Cowgirl Gourmet

Print recipe

The trick to this dressing is fresh, gorgeous basil leaves--preferably from your (or a friend's) garden. Be generous with the basil and use a heaping cup. The combination of champagne vinegar and lemon is also key in that is provides a citrus-acidic balance that pairs perfectly with the sweet basil. Drizzle over caprese salad (mozzarella and tomatoes) or do as we do in Mexico and serve with ripe tomato slices surrounding a mound of shredded Oaxacan cheese and drizzled with basil vinaigrette.

Makes a little more than 1 cup

1 shallot, peeled
1 heaping and packed cup fresh basil leaves
2 Tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
scant 2/3 cup olive oil

Place everything but the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to combine, using a spatula to scrape the sides and push everything together.

In a blender, remove the cap on the lid. Slowly begin to drizzle the oil in the machine. If using a blender, hold your hand over the lid as it will splatter if you don't. See look at my hand!
When oil is incorporated and the basil and shallot is pureed, turn off and scrape the sides again. Cover and blend or puree for 1-2 more minutes.
Place in a glass jar, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When using the leftover dressing, let it sit at room temperature about five minutes before serving. Shake well and use liberally.

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