There are many types of basil available here in the U.S. There only 3 kinds that are used in Thai cooking, Thai basil, holy basil and lemon basil.
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Thai basil or 'ho-ra-pa' is different than the sweet basil or Italian basil in supermarket. It has smaller leaves with purple stems. It is available at oriental grocery stores and farmers markets. If you can get some seeds, it is very easy to grow. Choose a sunny spot, you will have you Thai basil all summer along. Pick often to encourage growth.
I often get hora-pa mixed with gra-pow, holy basil. My mom taught me how to remember which is which by noticing the hair on the leaves and branches. The one without the hair is hora- pa and the one with hair is 'gra-pow'.
Recipes made with Thai basil
Pud Makua Yow
Stir fried eggplant with basil and chili pepper.
Chicken and Thai eggplant in red curry
Spicy Clams with Basil
Hoy Pad Prig
Manila clams in spicy basil sauce.
Steamed Curried Fish
Steamed, marinated fish in curry paste and coconut milk on vegetables.
Green Curry with Chicken
Gang Kiew Wan Gai
Green curry made with chicken and pea eggplant.
Gang Ped Fug Tong
Creamy and mild pumpkin curry.
Vegetarian Pumpkin Curry
Gang Ped Fug Tong Mungsavirat
Vegetarian creamy, mild pumpkin curry
Sour Bamboo Curry
Gang Gai Naw Mai Dong
Sour pickled bamboo shoot cooked in red curry paste and coconut milk
Lemon basil or bai mang lug looks similar to Italian basil but has tiny hair on its stems. The leaves are smaller. It definitely smell "lemony". Seeds are soaked and eaten as dessert. When soaked, the seed forms a tiny cloud and looks like frog's egg. The dessert is served with coconut milk and syrup.
Recipes made with lemon basil
Noodles with Fish Curry Sauce
Kanom Jeen Nam Ya
Curry fish sauce over rice noodles with fresh and boiled vegetables
Spicy Vegetable Soup
Clear, spicy vegetable soup
Holy basil is also known as tulsi in India. I have heard a story that Thai people moving to India are warned not to pluck the leaves from the plant without seeking permission as they are holy plants.
Holy basil is gapow in Thai. There are several varieties in Thailand. Some are grown wildly. If you trek in Thailand, check out for the reddish, purplish variety. It can be grown from seeds in the US in the summer.
You are probably familiar with 'gai pad gapow'. Frequently here in the US, when you order 'pad gapow' in a restaurant, you do not get the real gra pow, but instead sweet basil. They are not the same. However, if push comes to shove, sweet basil is better than nothing.
Gapow has a different smell and flavor than basil. Its branches and leaves are covered with tiny hair. It has a hot spicy smell. If you are making 'pad gra pow', don't sacrifice the taste, use all that you've got. It is worth it.
Recipes made with holy basil
Gai Pad Gaprow
Ground chicken stir fried with holy basil
Tom Yum Gai
Hot and sour, lean chicken soup with lemongrass and galangal.
Pad Gaproa Moosub Kaidow
Spicy ground pork stir-fried with fragrant holy basil. Served over jasmine rice, a fried egg and garlic chili fish sauce.
Sen Yai Pad Kee Mao
Spicy hot rice noodles stir-fried with pork and holy basil
Pad Kee Mao
Pork stir-fried with spicy sauce, also known as drunken pork
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