I spotted what looked like the last bunch of lemon basil at the farmers’s market and knew that it had my name on it. There was none at the Hmong stall, where I usually find it alongside holy basil and Thai basil. This lonesome bunch was at Coke Farms, owned by 70 or 80 somethings Tom and Laurie Coke. I grabbed it and as I was paying, a Middle Eastern woman asked if there was more. “No, this is the last one,” the Coke's assistant said. I’d seen her before at the market and we’d even exchanged cooking tips. I said I was sorry to ave snatched the last one.
“Enjoy it,” she responded with a smile. We both knew the treasure that I’d purchased.
I love this summer time herb and have eaten it with feta, used it to flavor grilled chicken, and made a mojito-like cocktail with it too. Normally, Southeast Asian lemon/lime basil has thin soft leaves, with delicate lemongrass-mint flavors. The bunch of Ocimum basilicum var citriodorum that I bought last weekend was robust by comparison. The thick, sturdy leaves of the lemon basil variety that Coke Farms grows has a slight menthol quality that reminds me of holy basil (hot basil, kaphrao in Thai, tulsi in Hindi). It was also a big bunch. I wanted to ensure it went to good use.
We hadn’t had any Thai food for a couple of weeks so I made this easy stir-fry, but instead of holy basil or even regular mint, I used the lemon basil and a little bit of mint that I found in fridge. You could use Thai basil and maybe Italian basil or another assertive herb with similar qualities. The foundational idea is that the herb leaves function like a super-flavorful leafy green vegetable. Yup, you use a lot of it.