Holy basil (or Tulsi, which is sanskrit for “the incomparable one”) is an aromatic herb that, depending on the variety, grows either with green (Sri or Lakshmi tulasi) or purplish leaves (Krishna tulasi). This perennial shrub is traditionally cultivated for religious uses and as a medicinal in Ayurvedic practices. Tulsi is integral to the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatars Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, Balarama, and Garuda. This sacred plant is considered by some to be an incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife. Thus, a ceremonial offering of the leaves at the feet of Vishnu embodies an offering of love to the deity. A tea made from steeping the herb was also traditionally given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.
In ayurvedic traditions, holy basil is considered a rasayana, which translates from sanskrit to “path of essence”, a kind of "elixir of life" that is believed to promote longevity. Taken as an herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee (clarified butter), it is used as an adaptogen, promoting a healthy response to stressors. It also is thought to remedy common colds, headaches, stomach problems, and even heart problems due to its purported anti-inflammatory, antihyperlipidemic, antibacterial, and cardioprotective effects.
Because it is sacred, most Vaishnavite Hindus do not encourage the use of holy basil in culinary preparations (although Tulsi leaves offered to Lord Vishnu may be eaten raw by themselves). Even uprooting or cutting a branch from a living Tulsi plant is considered to be quite offensive according to Hare Krishna followers. That being said, if you’re not adverse to the inauspicious, incorporating holy basil into recipes can lend a complexity of aroma and taste. Tulsi leaves are comprised of a long list of beneficial phytonutrients that lend both healing and aromatic (flavor) attributes. These include oleanolic acid (birch), ursolic acid (apple peels), rosmarinic acid (rosemary), eugenol (clove), carvacrol (oregano), linalool (floral spice), and β-caryophyllene (black pepper spice). Here I use Arbor Tea’s Organic Holy Basil Tulsi (which is the Krishna purple-leaved variety) in a special shortbread recipe. The dried Tulsi leaves are toasted to intensify the flavor of the essential oils before being mixed into the butter-laden dough. Once baked, a layer of tempered chocolate is poured over the cooling shortbread, creating an incomparable cookie meant to be offered devotedly to your beloved.
1/4 cup plus 1 TBS sugar
2 tablespoons Arbor Teas Organic Holy Basil Tulsi loose leaf tea
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 teaspoons milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz tempered chocolate, chopped into pieces
Makes nine 2½”x2½” cookies
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly butter shortbread mold or square baking pan.
2. Heat a small pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add Tulsi leaves, and shake pan to distribute tea into a single layer. Toast for about 2 minutes, until tea is fragrant but not darkened. Depending on your leaves, this may happen much more quickly; watch it carefully. When leaves are fragrant, transfer them to a bowl and let cool for a couple minutes.
3. Combine the sugar and toasted Tulsi leaves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes, until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, flour, and salt to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the milk, vanilla, and butter and pulse several times, until a dough forms.
4. Turn dough onto into shortbread mold and press into an even thickness. Use a fork to prick the dough all over.
5. Bake for the shortbread until it is a light golden brown, about 35 minutes.
6. Melt chocolate and bring to proper temper (see instructions below). Pour on top of baked shortbread and allow to cool completely before turning out the shortbread from the mold and cutting into squares.
1. Set ⅓ of the chocolate aside. This will be the “seed” chocolate needed in the second step. Place the remaining chocolate in a clean, dry bowl over a simmering double boiler. Insert a thermometer and heat the chocolate to 115°F. Do not allow the temperature to rise over 120°F, which will burn chocolate making it unusable.
2. Once the chocolate reaches 115°F, remove the bowl from the heat (don’t allow condensation to enter the bowl, which can cause seizing if it comes into contact with chocolate). Add the remaining ⅓ seed chocolate. Stir vigorously until the thermometer reads 80 degrees. As the chocolate cools it will change in thickness and texture.
3. Once it reaches 80°F, place the bowl back over the simmering double broiler briefly and rewarm to 88-91° F. Remove any seed chocolate that remains and pour over the shortbread. Allow to cool.