One of several types grown throughout Southeast Asia, purple Thai basil is a member of the mint family, along with holy basil. (Hindus, believing them their passport to paradise, are laid to rest with basil leaves on their breast.) The leafy green Thai version with a reddish stem can be found at larger Asian grocers like Asian Farm (247 Spadina, 416-591-8833) and Hua Sheng (293 Spadina, 416-263-9883), where it's sold on styrofoam flats wrapped in cling-film for $10 pound. Like all basils, purple Thai is an annual easily grown from seed. Check out Richter's online catalogue (www.richters.com) to mail-order seeds for nearly 40 varieties, including Lesbos basil, an herb indigenous to the Greek isle way off the coast of Sparta.
Though there are hundreds of versions, this popular recipe for Thai Basil Chicken (Gai Pad Kra Pao) is one of the most streamlined. Cut 1 pound skinned, boneless chicken into bite-size pieces and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a wok over high heat and stir-fry 2 minced cloves of garlic, a handful of crushed peanuts and 2 chopped green onions until softened (but not brown), about 2 minutes. Add 1 to 5 finely chopped Thai chili peppers (as many as you dare) and continue stir-frying for another minute. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Thai basil and 3 tablespoons fish sauce. Serve over rice with a squeeze of lime over top.