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Mint's many marvels

Mint
L Conlin

It is spring in Philadelphia. Tulips are abundant, while dogwood and cherry trees are in full bloom. Shrubs and evergreens are sending out bright green shoots. Perennials are coming out of hibernation and so are perennial herbs. One herb that never seems to be used enough by gardeners is the modest mint family. Scorned for its rambling habit, mint is still a marvel in a myriad of ways.

Mint is marvelous for such a multitude of purposes, that choosing its finest feature can be tough. Here are just a few of the reasons why we can smile at the gorgeous new growth of mint that is now appearing in gardens across the Philadelphia region:

  • Unlike many other herbs, mint will actually grow in heavy clay soil. It will also tolerate more shade than a lot of herbs. Its invasive tendencies can be kept to a minimum or completely overcome by either growing mint in containers buried in the ground, or including it in a container garden. It can also be grown as part of a decorative display in a large urn or planter.
  • Those with little or no available garden can raise mint on decks, patios or balconies.
  • Provided it is planted in well drained potting soil and given a well-lit location, such as a sunny windowsill or under a grow light, mint can be raised indoors. Remember to rotate the pot frequently. This will encourage more even growth all around the plant.
  • While many people find the smell and taste of mint to be a wonderful experience, a number of rodents and pests are repelled by it. Growing or spreading spearmint and peppermint around garbage cans, as well as seating areas can keep away some unwanted wildlife.
  • Mint concoctions can relieve many uncomfortable conditions, without resorting to over the counter or prescription drugs. It helps:
  • to stimulate appetite
  • to relieve gas
  • to calm menstrual cramps
  • to provide soothing fragrance in a room
  • as an antiseptic

Mint is one of the most versatile and exciting tastes in the entire field of cooking. Below are some recipes and suggestions on how to use those tender, fragrant shoots. Picking them now will encourage bushier growth, and will give you even more new shoots to flavor your menus. The newest shoots will also offer the best flavor. If you do not plan to use it immediately, then keep it from wilting after picking by wrapping it lightly in a dampened paper towel and storing in the refrigerator in a bowl or plastic bag.

Suggested uses:

  • Add minced mint leaves to your favorite corn muffin recipe
  • Substitute mint in salsa, hummus and guacamole recipes, or use it in addition to other herbs such as cilantro, parsley and thyme
  • Since mint complements the taste of berries, use it to flavor pies, smoothies and parfaits
  • Include chopped mint with tuna salad
  • Rub mint paste onto meats before marinating or roasting
  • Incorporate mint into stuffed tomato, pepper, fish or poultry recipes
  • Combine crushed mint leaves with limeade or lemonade
  • Pair minced mint leaves with chocolate dishes
  • Peach, pear and apple recipes all benefit from the addition of mint

Recipes:

Chilled curried cucumber mint soup

1 finely chopped onion

1 medium sized cucumber, washed, unpeeled and diced

1 tsp curry powder

2 ½ cups chicken stock

2/3 cup sour cream

Freshly ground salt and black pepper

In a saucepan, place ½ cup chicken stock with the onion, curry powder and cucumber. Cook gently for a few minutes, while stirring, then add the remaining stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for around 30 mins. Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a blender. Chill for several hours in a refrigerator. Prior to serving, mix in the sour cream and salt and pepper.

Chocolate mint parcels

1 tbsp minced mint leaves

¼ cup ground almonds

2 oz grated dark chocolate

2 peeled and grated sweet, crisp apples

½ cup Greek yogurt

8 sheets filo (phyllo) pastry

¼ cup olive oil

1 tbsp granulated sugar and 1 tbsp cocoa powder mixed together

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix mint, almonds, chocolate, yogurt and apple in a bowl. Cut pastry sheets into 3-4 inch squares. Brush a square with olive oil, then lay another square on top and brush with more olive oil. Place a teaspoon of mixture in the middle of the square and pull up each corner to meet in the middle, then gently twist the corners together to form a little parcel. Place the parcel on a greased baking sheet or baking stone and repeat the process until all filling and pastry have been used. Very lightly brush each parcel with olive oil and sprinkle over the top the granulated sugar and cocoa powder mix. Bake approx. 10 mins, or until lightly browned.

Mint lemon curd

6 fresh mint leaves

4 cups granulated sugar

1 ½ cups chopped butter

Very finely grated rind of 6 lemons

Juice from 6 lemons

8 beaten eggs

In a food processor, place mint leaves and sugar and blend until leaves are very finely chopped and mixed with sugar. Turn out into a bowl and add all other ingredients. Stir until thoroughly combined. Set bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, making sure that the bowl does not touch the water. Gently cook the mixture, whisking lightly until all butter has melted and sugar dissolved. Continue cooking for around 40 mins, or until the mixture thickens Pour into sterilized glass jars, filling to the rim and place a circle of waxed paper over the opening, then allow to cool completely. When cool, secure jars with a screw top lids or place circles of cellophane over the waxed paper. Cut each piece of cellophane to a circumference large enough to fit over the jar opening, leaving enough excess to pull down over the sides of the jar and use a rubber band or piece of string or cord to tie around it. This delectable curd can be given as a gift, decorated with a bright circle of fabric over the cellophane if desired.

Citrus mint cup

12 sprigs of fresh mint

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Juice from 2 lemons

Juice from 2 pink or white grapefruit

2 cups seltzer water

Crushed ice

Lemon slices and mint sprigs to decorate

In a mortar and pestle, crush together the sprigs of mint with the sugar and divide between 4 small drinking glasses. Fill each glass with crushed ice, add the lemon and grapefruit juice with the seltzer water, then gently stir and decorate with lemon slices and mint sprigs.

After toiling in the garden, or other exertive tasks, splash your face in refreshing mint water and rest your feet in a restorative mint infused bath – recipes below:

Mint water

(tip: this can be prepared ahead of time, so that it is ready for use when you wish)

1 cup fresh mint sprigs

1 quart cool water

Lightly crush mint sprigs in your hand, then leave to soak in water for at least ½ hour. Strain and use at any time. This can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Minty foot soothe

12 sprigs of fresh mint

½ cup cold water

10 cups boiling water

Place mint in a food processor with the cold water. Process until the mixture reaches a puree.. Pour into a large heatproof bowl, bucket or footbath and add the boiling water. Allow to cool to a temperature that feels comfortable to the feet, then soak both feet until the water becomes too cool.

Appreciate the marvels of mint by using those tender first shoots of mint to create your own burst of spring flavored delights.