Can we safely say that spring has sprung, albeit a bit late this year? Even if it’s still cold out, do yourself a favor and bring some mint into your home. The aroma alone will bring into mind lazy sipping of mint juleps in the sun, relaxing in a hammock.
Not confined, of course, to the South, mint plays an important role in many varied cuisines, including Middle Eastern, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian.
The American colonists brought mint to the colonies for its medicinal properties, and mint tea is still recommended for heartburn and indigestion, as well as for relaxation.
There are many varieties of mint; the ones most familiar are spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint is used in beverages like mint julep, while peppermint’s essential oils lend it more to sweet dishes.
Mint is widely cultivated in Israel by home gardeners as well as commercially. It’s prolific and tends to take over a garden, but is used in so many ways: in salads, in stuffings for summer squash, in meatballs, with chicken, with fruit salads. It can be used alone or with a combination of friends, like cilantro and basil. It also partners with chocolate in cookies! And cakes!
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves only
1 large bunch Romaine lettuce
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced fresh peppermint or spearmint leaves
1⁄2 cup sliced walnuts
Rinse, trim and dry chard leaves and Romaine. Pat completely dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces.
Refrigerate for several hours in a closed, tightly covered container, with a small cloth towel to absorb moisture. Remove from refrigerator and arrange in decorative serving bowl.
Whisk olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice together. Pour over salad and toss well. Sprinkle with mint leaves and walnuts. Serve immediately.
1⁄2 cup fine bulgur
3 medium ripe tomatoes
1 bunch parsley, leaves only
1⁄2 bunch green onions, trimmed
1⁄4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1 juice of one lemon
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Rinse bulgur and place in a small bowl. Cover with cold water. Let set 10 minutes.
Transfer to a strainer lined with a thin cloth. Wrap bulgur in the cloth and squeeze to remove excess water.
Chop tomatoes, parsley, green onions and mint and combine with bulgur.
Chill, covered, for 3 to 4 hours. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice and salt immediately before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
Curried Tofu-and-Avocado Dip with Rosemary Pita Chips
4 whole wheat pitas, split
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
7 oz. soft or silken tofu, drained
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup low-fat sour cream
1⁄4 cup Greek-style, fat-free yogurt
1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
2 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic
11⁄2 tsps. honey
1 tsp. curry powder
2 Tbsps. chopped mint
salt and freshly ground pepper
grape tomatoes, cucumber slices and radishes for serving
Preheat the oven to 325°.
Stack the pita halves and cut them into 6 wedges; transfer to a bowl and add the olive oil and rosemary. Season with salt and toss.
Spread the pita wedges on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until crisp, 30 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree the tofu, avocado, sour cream, yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, honey, curry powder and mint until smooth.
Season the dip with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until chilled.
Serve the dip with the pita chips, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes.
Minted Pear Surprise
6 ripe Anjou pears
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄2 cup stemmed mint leaves, rinsed and dried
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur
Peel and core pears; cut in half. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Place in a shallow container with a tight-fitting cover.
Chop mint coarsely. Combine sugar with chocolate liqueur; pour over pears. Sprinkle with chopped mint leaves. Place in a tightly-covered container and chill for at least one day.
Gently spoon the marinade over the pears once or twice during this time. Arrange two halves on each plate and serve.
Iced Mint Tea
1 cup stemmed mint leaves, rinsed
3 Tbsps. lemon juice
3 tea bags
8 tsps. sugar
4 cups freshly boiling water
2 cups ice cubes
4 thin lemon slices
Place mint leaves and lemon juice in a heatproof pitcher. Add tea bags and sugar; add boiling water. Add ice cubes and lemon slices.
Steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and mint leaves. Pour into tall, ice-filled glasses.
Serves 4 to 6.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 46 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: [email protected] .