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That's mint

Kristina Jensen describes the sauciest way to use mint.

Mint is a plant that has been long used in diverse cultures, such as India, the Middle East and Europe, and there is nothing quite as Kiwi as serving mint sauce with a roast lamb dinner.

We inherited our mint sauce habit from the British and Irish, but the use of mint as a flavouring dates way back in time, being favoured more by the Indian, French and Italian cultures.

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and can be a bit of a nuisance once it gets going. However, if you have lots of mint handy, take advantage of some of the excellent health-promoting properties of mint by trying one or both of my deliciously simple recipes below.

Two of my sons, now in their twenties, may indeed have mint to thank for their excellent teeth. They “invented” a snack when they were four and six that involved the mint growing on our rented property. The plant had claimed the lower reaches of the section, creating a wonderful scented jungle to play in. One day, we noticed that the honey jar was missing and I found the boys smearing honey on mint leaves and munching them down with gay abandon. “Tastes like toothpaste, Mum,” they informed me.
When I researched the health benefits of mint, I found that the leaves are packed with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These help kill bacteria in the mouth, preventing tooth decay, bad breath and keeping tongues and teeth naturally clean. Just chewing on a few leaves of mint regularly helps to keep dental diseases at bay. Mint is also good for settling upset tummies and reducing flatulence.

Mint reproduces from long, creeping stems that spread out just under the soil surface whenever they get a chance. It is recommended to plant mint in containers, preferably with bottoms sunk into the soil. While this will not contain it forever, it will allow you to have a modicum of control. Mint grows really well in containers on a deck or porch. This keeps it in check and at close proximity to the kitchen for easy everyday use.

Mint likes damp feet, but not too wet. Make sure you keep its soil moist during periods of high evaporation, watering at least twice a week. I keep my potted culinary mint and peppermint in the semi-shade of our shade house to help with moisture retention in the soil and it seems to thrive in these conditions.

If you’re growing in pots, remember you will need to water more often. Mint also loves liquid fertiliser, so applications are suggested every two to three weeks to keep the plant in tip-top condition.

Fresh Italian mint sauce

This is an ever-so-slight variation of our own traditional, English mint sauce. The main difference is that it is not cooked. I am of the opinion that cooking destroys many of the valuable properties of herbs, therefore this recipe is based on an infusion of mint. You can make it in minutes, but, for best results, plan on letting it sit for a while to let the mint flavour fully infuse into the sauce.

Ingredients
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 heaped Tbsp of culinary mint, minced
2 level Tbsp of raw sugar
A pinch of salt
A pinch of chilli pepper

Method
1. Rinse the mint, pat it dry in a tea towel or paper towel.
2. Remove the leaves from the stems and chop finely.
3. Put the vinegar and sugar into a small pot. Heat very gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then pop in the mint leaves, salt and chilli pepper.
4. Let the sauce sit for 12 hours and then chill until it’s time to serve.

Creamy mint sauce

The many variations of this sauce are mainly used for dipping chicken or falafel kebabs, roast vegetables and savouries into, as well as a dressing for pita bread and roti.

Ingredients
1 cup thick Greek-style yoghurt or sour cream
½ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional extras: 1 tsp cumin powder
and/or ¼ tsp chilli powder

Method
Whisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate for one to two hours before serving.