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Fresh Mint! Cool!

by Lori Grossman

When the days get longer and the temperature rises so high that you'd swear you're ready to faint, hold on. Think cool thoughts. Include some (home-grown if possible) fresh mint in your menus.

The origins of mint have been lost, with some sources claiming that mint is native to Europe, while others point to the Mediterranean, or the Near East. Whatever its origins may be, today mint is grown around the world. There are more than 25 species of mint and unknown numbers of garden hybrids. Both spearmint and peppermint have naturalized and are found growing wild from Nova Scotia south to Utah, Tennessee, and Florida.

Mint Lore

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The Bible mentions mint being used in lieu of money as a tithe. Medicinally, mint has been written about since the first century A.D. Mint is widely used to soothe the stomach. Most of us have bought and consumed a few of those chocolate-covered peppermints after eating a spicy meal! For centuries, mint was strewn around to dispel foul odors (the first room freshener?). Culinary uses are more common in the Middle East, but with our growing interest in foreign cuisine, exotic-sounding dishes are almost commonplace today.

Growing Your Own
Young plants are usually available at nurseries and garden centers. Allow at least 12 to 18 inches between plants. If mint starts crowding your garden, just pull up some stems. You can replant them elsewhere, as the stem is usually attached to an underground runner. Generally, about one inch of water is needed per week if you don' much rain. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture and reduces weed growth. Mint prefers moist soil, so it requires more frequent watering.

Stuffed Artichokes

A healthy Turkish-style dish that's tasty and is served cold. Perfect for a hot summer day!
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 medium artichokes
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted pistachio or pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup long-grain rice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 cup mint leaves, chopped
  • Lemon slices and dill, for garnish
Mix together the juice of 1 lemon and the flour with 1 cup of water in a bowl. Set aside.

Cut off the artichoke stems and outer leaves. Bend back the inner leaves and snap them near the bottom, leaving the fleshy part attached to the base. (The fresher the artichokes, the easier they will snap. Cut the leaves if necessary.) Slice off the innermost leaves just above the base and completely scoop out the fuzzy chokes. As you clean each artichoke, rub it with half a lemon sprinkled with salt to prevent discoloration. Put it in the lemon-flour-water mixture.

For the stuffing, heat the oil in a heavy pan and sauté the onions. Add the nuts and cook until they turn golden, then stir in the rice. Season with salt, pepper, and allspice and sauté for 5 minutes longer. Add 2/3 cup boiling water. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the rice is almost tender and the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped parsley, dill, and mint.

Remove the artichokes from the liquid, setting it aside, and stuff them with the rice and nut mixture. Arrange in a single layer in a flameproof casserole dish. Add the reserved lemon-flour-water mixture and 3 tablespoons olive oil, pouring it between the vegetables and the side of the pan.

Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the artichokes. Put a sheet of moistened waxed paper on top and put on the lid. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and simmer for 1 hour. Let cool in the casserole. Lift them out onto a serving platter and serve cold, garnished with lemon slices and dill. Makes 6 servings.

Mint Chocolate Cake

A delicious cake with a kiss of mint.
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup mint flowers, coarsely chopped
  • Butter and flour (for greasing pans)
  • Confectioners' sugar
  • Mint flowers, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Pour wet mixture into dry, beating for 2 minutes. Add mint flowers.

Butter and flour baking pans (you can use a Bundt pan, two 9 or 10-inch round baking pans, or a 9x13-inch baking pan). Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Just before serving, dust top of cake with confectioners' sugar. Garnish with mint flowers. Makes two 9 or 10-inch round cakes, one Bundt cake, or one 9x13-inch cake. Serves 12.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream

If you're going to overindulge, this is the way to do it.
  • 1/2 cup mint flowers, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 3 ounces chocolate chips
Put the mint flowers, sugar, and water into a heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the syrup. Add lemon juice to the strained liquid.

Beat the egg yolks until light and frothy. Slowly pour in the syrup, beating constantly. Continue to beat until the mixture thickens.

Place the half-and-half and chocolate chips in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the chocolate melts. Heat until the mixture is almost to the boiling point, then remove from the heat and cool the saucepan in a large bowl filled with ice cubes.

Whisk the chocolate and egg mixtures together. Pour into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. To be really decadent, serve with crème de menthe drizzled over the ice cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Stay cool!

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