Cool off with mint!

In Recipies on June 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

If I were to create a list of my favorite things, my herb garden would feature near the top. By midsummer, my window boxes are overflowing with thyme, basil, oregano, and a few others. A large pot of mint swings in a hanging planter where it gets a perfect balance of rain, shade, and sun. A single plant provides me with (literally) bushels of cool and sweet-tasting peppermint.

It’s a good thing that I usually have a bumper crop of mint. I use a lot of it. Whatever mint is not used when directly harvested goes into my dehydrator for winter use.

Today, as I sit to tap out my weekly scrawl, the temperatures in America’s Ukraine of Iowa are expected to best the triple digits. Wonderful!

What better time to enjoy mint?

My Devoted Dozen (or so) readers will recall my previously published recipe for tabouleh. It is the signature dish of summer and I often make it during our overly long winters to brighten the gloom. Bulgar wheat with lavish amounts of mint and parsley and seasoned well with cumin and lemon juice is just too good to keep solely for summer.

Today, as the mercury screams for the top of your thermometer, go back and enjoy my recipe for tabouleh. While you’re at it, why not enjoy mint in a few other ways?

Touareg (Moroccan Tea)

Mint is added to a plethora of drinks and foods throughout the Middle East, the European Mediterranean coast and across North Africa. Israelis and their neighbors enjoy mint in their lemonade, a taste which seems intuitively acquired. Throughout the Arab world, alcoholic drinks are forbidden to those who follow Islam and mint tea substitutes for beer, wine, and liquor. (Interestingly, when mint is in short supply, wormwood…the stuff of absinthe…is frequently substituted for mint.)

The basic ingredient for touareg is good quality green tea (free trade certified please). Morocco is one of the world’s largest import customers for Chinese green tea.

Next, one needs mint. Lots of mint.

Brew up a pot of green tea and enjoy its grassy, floral bouquet. Many aficionados pour a bit of hot water over the leaves first and then discard it. It is claimed that doing so washes away any bitterness.

Traditionally, a huge handful of mint leaves and stems are pushed into the teapot and allowed to steep. Sugar (in varying amounts from “generous” to “massive”) is typically added before adding the mint. I add my sugar in the glasses (never cups). After the tea and mint has brewed for 3-6 minutes, it is poured into small glasses. Pouring the tea from a height is dramatic and adds an elegant froth to the drink, marking the pourer as a tea master.

Now, take your tea to a shady spot outdoors and fire up some shisha in your hookah.

Ahhhh…relaxation at its best.

Kharnabeet maklee

This is a minty favourite from Lebanon. Cauliflower florets are most typically used. But I have enjoyed this with broccoli florets as well. You will need to make up the dipping batter as the oil in a deep fryer heats to about 375F.

Some cooks blanch the cauliflower before dipping it. I have found doing so only adds a step, takes more time, and the batter does not adhere nearly as well. Unless the cauliflower florets are carefully dried, they also cause massive oil spatters when they cook. I simply cut the florets a bit smallish and they cook wonderfully.

First make up the batter. This version makes enough to liberally coat about half a head of cauliflower. That’s plenty to enjoy as an evening nibble.

You will need:

¾ C flour

2 eggs

1 C (loosely measured) flat-leaf parsley, minced

1 C (packed) fresh mint, minced

¼ C very finely minced onion

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

a bit of water (and an ice cube)

 In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients…except the water and ice…into a paste. Now, add a bit of cold water to make a batter that is just thicker than pancake batter. The batter will thicken a bit as you use it, so add in a small ice cube. The ice keeps the batter cool and also melts to add a bit of water as you use the batter.

Use a salad fork to dip each floret into the batter. Allow any huge excesses of batter to drip off and then move the floret to the hot oil. Fry until golden and the florets float to the top of the oil. Avoid whacking great clumps of fried cauliflower glob and do not crowd the florets in the oil. Cook the remaining cauliflower in batches, removing each cooked batch to drain on paper towels.

This is a great snack finger food. Enjoy it traditional-style by serving it with a small bowl of lemon juice to dip each piece in. It is also quite tasty when dipped in tahina (calories!) or in an Asian-inspired mixture made of equal parts of rice wine vinegar with mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine).

Turn your patio or deck into a casbah and chase away the summer heat with mint.


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