18 Aug, 2010
Mint: Don’t buy it – grow it!
I know for many, the idea of growing your own is just too damn daunting but there are certain vegetables and herbs that just won’t fail – I promise.
Mint is unbelievable. It is a weed and it will grow anywhere and all year round. It’s such a sturdy plant that if you’re not careful it will take over all other growth.
Seeing mint sold in supermarkets is as ridiculous as seeing dandelions on the shelf. Anyone can grow it. It’s a real gem of a herb, you can put it in savoury and sweet dishes, and it’s an essential ingredient in many cocktails.
I urge you to go out and purchase a mint plant or buy from seed from a garden centre. You can grow it a pot indoors and that way it will last all year or you can plant it outside and let it flourish. I would avoid planting in your herb garden because it will take over. Here are a couple of inspiring recipes that showcase the merits of mint.
Mint goes great with lamb and this Middle Eastern dish is no exception. Both recipes are from ‘The River Cottage Handbook No 5: Edible Seashore’, by John Wright.
Lamb kofte with yogurt sauce
Serves six to eight
For the kofte
- 1 small onion, grated
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 rounded tbsp dried mint, crumbled
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 good pinch ground allspice
- 1 good pinch cinnamon
- 650g lamb, coarsely minced
- 4 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 90g fresh breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for shaping the kofte
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Some long, mild green chillies
For the sauce
- 100ml plain yogurt
- 100g soft goat’s cheese
- 12 or so mint leaves, chopped
- 1 good pinch sea salt
- Pitta bread, for serving
- Skewers (if using wooden ones, soak them in water for 30 minutes)
- Using your hands, mix together the kofte ingredients, seasoned generously with salt and pepper, until well combined. Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes, then fry off a small piece of the mixture to test – adjust the seasoning as necessary. When you’re satisfied with the taste, wet your hands first with water and then with the remaining tablespoon of oil, and shape the kofte into thin sausages about 7cm long. Now thread the kofte on to the skewers, along with the chillies (if you’re using them), pressing firmly on the minced lamb so it’s firmly attached. Put the skewers on an oiled grill over the hot coals of a barbecue or on a rack under a preheated grill, and cook for about eight minutes, turning once halfway through.
- While they’re cooking, make the sauce by stirring together the yogurt and cheese until fairly smooth. Mix in the chopped mint and salt. Serve the kofte hot, with warmed pitta bread and the sauce.
Mint and mascarpone ice-cream
Serves six to eight
- 120g fresh mint
- 200g caster sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 200ml whole milk
- 200ml double cream
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- 200g mascarpone
- Strip the mint leaves from the stalks and reserve the stems – snip them with scissors if they’re very long. Put the stems into a pan with 350ml water and 100g of the sugar, and bash them a bit with the back of a wooden spoon. Over a low heat, stir gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a boil and simmer for eight to 10 minutes until syrupy – watch it for the last couple of minutes, to ensure it doesn’t reduce too much. Allow the syrup to cool, then strain out the stalks.
- Bring another pan of water to a boil, drop in the mint leaves, blanch for a few seconds, drain and refresh in iced water. Drain, pat dry, then blitz with the cooled syrup until you have a very fine, green paste.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar until light and creamy in colour – this takes about five minutes in a mixer, 10 by hand.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the milk and cream, along with the split vanilla pod, and bring to just below boiling point, when a few bubbles appear at the edges of the pan. Scrape out the vanilla seeds and stir into the cream.
- Slowly pour the warm cream over the egg yolks, stirring all the time, until well combined. Pour into a clean saucepan and cook gently over a low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer to a bowl or plastic container, and cover the surface with baking parchment to prevent a skin from forming. Cool, then chill in the fridge.
- Beat the mascarpone slightly, then whisk in the custard and mint paste until smooth. Churn in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then put into a plastic tub and freeze; defrost for 10 minutes before serving.