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Saturday, June 04, 2011


Excellent Ingredient of the Week
This week’s excellent ingredient is plain old mint; it’s practically a weed. It will take over your garden so be careful where you plant it. Then watch it grow. So what about mint — what’s it good for?

Some history: Hippocrates wrote about it and in medieval times it was commonly used to whiten teeth and soothe bites of all kinds. Peppermint, although it was not even recognized until the early 1700's, provides the most widely used essential oil in medicines. Mint is said to stimulate stomach bile thereby aiding in digestion. So that after dinner mint is actually good for more than just a sweet treat.

Japanese mint is the source of menthol, a major essential oil used in flavoring prepared foods. Similar to peppermint yet of lesser quality, Japanese mint oil is sometimes used to stretch the more expensive essential oil of true peppermint. Spearmint and peppermint are the most common mint varieties used in cooking. They offer a sweetly clean, refreshing taste to foods. Peppermint is more often used for candies and teas while spearmint complements savory dishes like lamb, peas and other vegetables as well as fruits and chocolate.

Mint is common to Middle Eastern cooking. Try snipping the leaves into fruit salads and rice pilaf or adding to a marinade for chicken. The classic mint julep is a refreshing bourbon cocktail but you might consider adding mint to punches, iced tea and milk shakes too. The fresh leaves make an attractive garnish to just about any dish. In India, they hang fresh bunches of mint in doorways and open windows allowing the breeze to carry the scent throughout the house.

Mint Pesto

This unusual and delightful dessert pesto is terrific with chocolate. Try it as a filling for sandwich cookies or mix some into chocolate sauce for ice cream or cake.

1/2 cup macadamia nuts
2 cups packed fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup honey
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, briefly chop the nuts before adding the remaining ingredients. Puree until reduced to a paste. If not using right away, transfer to a glass container, lay plastic wrap over the top so it is touching thus keeping air from penetrating the pesto. Store in refrigerator for up to a month. Yield: about 1 cup