There is no arguing that the regular lineup of sammies at Cleveland Pickle (http://www.clevelandpickle.com/our-menu/) has been successful, but that doesn't mean chef-owner Josh Kabat and partner Kiaran Daley can't find seasonal inspiration.
When Old Man Winter comes a knockin', the pickle pair turn to Thai basil. Not only does it provide a much-needed flavor boost when fresh produce is slim pickings, but it also helps maintain the bottom line when business is lean.
"The shelf life of my fresh produce comes into factor a little more than in the summer," explains Kabat. "I started using Thai basil because lasts much longer than traditional basil."
Kabat sources his Thai basil from the Vietnam Market at Detroit and W. 54th Street — his favorite supplier of Asian foodstuffs. In addition to the extended shelf life, the more exotic basil provides a deeper flavor that works well with higher temperature foods like soup, notes Kabat.
"It still has the characteristics of traditional basil, so it can be used in Italian and European based foods," he says. "But it's also great if I want to easily add an Asian flare to something."
Case in point: The Thai Asian basil tomato soup, which utilizes hoisin, five spice, Thai basil and a garnish of bean sprouts to create what Kabat calls an "almost delicate tomato pho."
From a sandwich perspective, the East Sider offers another good example of how this winter-friendly herb pumps up the flavor quotient.
"By using Thai basil, it is like a BLT on steroids," Daley says of the popular sammie. The sweetness of the Thai basil marries perfectly with the beefsteak tomato, the caramelized pancetta and the balsamic reduction.
Kabat and Daley don't leave the basil at work when they close up shop. The real life couple brings it home to use in their personal pantry as well. When they have the time to cook, they enjoy making Vietnamese-style pho — which begins with a hearty, homemade beef stock and a spice packet from the Vietnam Market. After a couple hours of simmering, they add hoisin, been sprouts, jalapenos, and a good amount of Thai basil. They complete the dish with tapioca glass noodles instead of the traditional rice noodles.
"We feel they hold up better and we personally enjoy the texture," says Kabat.
Consider picking up a bunch or fresh Thai basil to add to your own soups, sandwiches and dishes to give them a subtle Asian flavor boost.