Mint Family: Quick and Easy
Quick & Easy
In desserts, use mint family herbs sparingly; their flowers, leaves, and petals have strong personalities that can overwhelm. Flavor cream for whipping or ice cream and custard by bringing half of the amount called for in the recipe to a simmer with the herbs and sugar. Cover the pot and let it sit until the flavor is to your liking, tasting it frequently and keeping in mind that you’ll add other ingredients that will take away from its intensity.
Poaching is a good way to subtly perfume fruit desserts. Poaching peaches in red wine and cinnamon basil (which is delicious!) calls for a generous handful of basil. Adding lavender to peaches poached in Riesling, on the other hand, should be done sparingly. Reduce the leftover herbaceous poaching liquid and use as you would any syrup.
Mint family herbs deserve a starring role, whether in a marinade, vinaigrette, salsa, or sauce. My favorite mint family combination is mint and marjoram, paired with red wine vinegar, a minced shallot, and mild feta cheese. Thinned with a few tablespoons of olive oil, it becomes a salad dressing; left thick and slightly chunky, it’s the world’s best special sauce for grilled lamb burgers.
Many of the herbs that thrive in the summer months belong in our refreshments. Basil, peppermint, and spearmint are naturals in lemonade and agua fresca. Lavender and rosemary make delicious simple syrups for flavoring cocktails and sweetening iced tea. For herbal tea, pour almost-boiling water over fresh herbs. Cover them as they steep, usually around ten minutes, which traps the volatile oils of the herbs rather than sending them, with the steam, into the air.
Quick Cucumber-Shiso Pickles
Slice 2 English cucumbers as thinly as you can, toss with 1 Tbsp sea salt, and let drain in a colander or sieve for 1 hour. Mix together 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 3 Tbsp mirin, and 8 shiso leaves. Rinse salt from the cucumbers, place them in a ceramic or glass bowl or jar, and immerse them in the pickling solution. Store in the fridge for at least 1 hour before eating, icy cold and crisp.
Watermelon-Peppermint Agua Fresca
Combine 4 cups cold, diced, seeded watermelon, 1/2 cup water and juice of 1 lime, in a blender and purée until smooth. Muddle 16 peppermint leaves with 2 Tbsp unrefined sugar in the bottom of a pitcher or jar, pour in blended watermelon, and stir to dissolve sugar. Cover and store in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Serve over ice. Makes 8 servings.