Utah Style and Design

Summer’s Tastemaker: Mint

May 3, 2014

Some people know it as mint, others just refer to it as summer’s essential. Either way, this refreshing herb rules the season.

By Mary Brown Malouf

We know you may limit your use of mint to juleps and lamb jelly, but let’s put a stop to that right now. No other herb brightens summer cuisine with such range and refreshing flavor. Think beyond chocolate and verdant garnish—there are so many more ways to use mint to add unexpected zing to your summer cooking. Sweet? Of course. Savory? You bet. Mint works with dishes of countless kinds and global origins. Remembering that mint and basil are relatives may help spark your imagination.

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Corn, Zucchini and Mint Salad

The mix is in. Mint, corn and zucchini come together in a salad that will become your go-to side dish for picnics and barbecues all summer long.

Part of the beauty of this dish comes from dicing everything about the size of a corn kernel—a little extra knife work, but worth it.

  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 a large sweet purple onion, diced small
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1-1/4 cups small-diced zucchini (about 6 oz. or 1 medium-small zucchini)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced small
  • 2 slightly heaping cups fresh corn kernels  (Okay, you can use frozen.)
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • Juice of one-quarter lemon
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Quickly sauté the corn, onion, pepper and garlic in the olive oil, until onion is barely translucent. Stir in salt, coriander and cumin and let cool to room temperature. Squeeze lemon juice over and mix in mint leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Leftovers make a great pasta dish—shave plenty of parmesan over it.)

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Worldly Ways to Use Fresh Mint

Mint is a global culinary favorite. Combined with certain other flavors, it often forms the taste signature of a cuisine.

  • Lebanon: Chop finely equal amounts of mint leaves and green scallions and add to lemon-olive oil vinaigrette with tomatoes and romaine.
  • India: Chop finely an equal amount of mint leaves and green scallions, add to yogurt, and mix with seeded, diced cucumbers for a raita dip with vegetables.
  • Vietnam: Mint, cilantro and lemongrass are the classic riad of Vietnamese seasoning—mix them with a little olive oil and some vermicelli noodles for a fast remake of leftover steak.
  • Thailand: The combination of mint, Thai basil and galangal or ginger is great as a flavoring for grilled meats and fish.
  • England: Sweet mint sauce is traditional and mint does complement lamb, but we prefer Italian-inspired mint pesto: 3 cups mint leaves, 1/4 cup sliced almonds, 1/2 cup EVOO and salt to taste. Grind leaves and nuts in a food processor, then add the oil in a thin stream with the processor running and salt to taste.

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Summer’s Sip: The Mojito

Muddle a handful of mint leaves (10-12) with a wedge of lime in the bottom of a glass. Add a couple more lime wedges and a tablespoon of white sugar (or more, to taste) and muddle again to release the mint oils and lime juice. Fill the glass with ice, pour 1 1/2 ounces of white rum over the ice, and then fill the glass with sparkling water. Garnish with lime wheels and more mint. Serves one, so make another.

Cultivating (and Controlling) Mint 

Growing mint in your garden is rarely difficult—it can grow in most settings (zones 3-8) and needs little care beyond adequate water and sufficient amounts of shade and sun. Controlling the mint in your garden is another question—it spreads rampantly via underground stems called stolons and can pop up a yard from the mother plant, invading flowerbeds and every place you don’t want it to grow. One way to avoid constant mint-pulling is to plant it in bottomless containers with sides at least 15 inches deep. Sink the containers into the ground leaving an inch or two of rim above the surrounding soil surface. Or plant mint in tubs and containers, although in Utah you’ll have to water it more frequently in a container. Or make lots of mojitos!

The Myth of Mint

According to Roman mythology, a young nymph named Minthe caught the eye of Pluto, lord of the underworld. Pluto’s affection for Minthe enraged his wife Proserpina, so she changed Minthe into a lowly plant that can be easily be stepped on. Pluto couldn’t undo the curse, but gave the poor nymph a wonderful fragrance, especially pungent when she is trampled on.

Mint on the Menu
Fresh and flavorful, Layla’s tabouleh makes a perfect summer dish.

  • Bombay House — Everything comes with mint chutney and mint chutney can go on everything, from your appetizer pappadoms to your lamb curry. 2731 Parleys Way, SLC, 801-581-0222, other locations in Provo and West Jordan
  • Mazza Cafe — Ful mudammas—you could call it bean dip, but that’s an understatement. Here, the fava and garbanzo beans are seasoned with garlic, lemon, tahini, olive oil and some mint. 912 E. 900 South, SLC, 801-521-4572 and 1500 E. 1500 South, SLC., 801-484-9259
  • Layla — Classic tabouleh, made of finely chopped parsley, tomato, spring onion, plenty of mint and cracked wheat, is dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.  4751 S. Holladay Blvd., Holladay, 801-272-9111
  • Eva — The usual melon and prosciutto combination is expanded with cucumber, mint and a honey-lime vinaigrette. 317 S. Main St., SLC, 801-359-8447

Note: Not all these dishes are always available.

Mint 101

There are more than 20 species of the mint plant and hundreds of hybridized varieties. The most popular mints used in cooking include:

  • Spearmint — Has a dark green, pointed leaf and is the most widely used culinary mint in savory dishes, especially with lamb.
  • Chocolate Mint — Has a surprising aroma of chocolate, so it’s a surprising addition to chocolate desserts and is also delicious used in fresh mint tea.
  • Peppermint — Has a rounded, kelly-green leaf and is used especially in sweets and drinks.
  • Lemon Mint — It attracts bees and suits lighter meats like shellfish and chicken. It contains citronella, making it somewhat useful as a mosquito repellant.

Pour it On

Fixing a fragrant cup of fresh mint tea couldn’t be easier—or more refreshing.

Just clip enough leaves to half-fill your teacup. Of course, wash them thoroughly. Then pour boiling water over the leaves and let them steep 5-7 minutes. Strain out the leaves and sip.

Ashley Miller

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