Mint has a lot to say. This stubborn perennial gives food and drink a refreshing coolness, often with a bittersweet edge and sometimes with notes of pepper. It’s not subtle like some herbs and makes its presence known in everything from cocktails to candy, regardless of whether the context is savory or sweet. In all fairness, it’s hard to overdo its usage. Mint is also easy to grow in a window box or garden so the leaves are always on hand, especially in spring.
There are several types of mint, but the standard option is spearmint, which is less aggressive on the palate than peppermint. If you buy sliced mint from a counter or farmers market, make sure it has a nice flavor. Dried mint on the spice rack is often used in Persian cuisine, but it’s a fresh kind of spirit.
Mint is a wonderful flavor to add to coolers with warm weather. One of the best drinks on the cocktail menu at Cheeca Lodge, a resort in the Florida Keys, is a nojito, a non-alcoholic mojito that’s so sour-sweet and fragrant that you might not miss the rum. Mint also plays a role in Moroccan tea, usually served sweetened and hot but also deliciously frozen, and can add a cool dimension to smoothies. Refreshment is on the way.
Adapted from Cheeca Lodge, Islamorada, Fl.
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
8 green mint leaves
3 tablespoons of lime juice
5 tablespoons of simple syrup (see note)
4 ounces club soda
Lime wedge for garnish
1. Lightly crush the mint leaves and place in a cocktail mixing glass with lime juice and simple syrup. Fill with ice. Cover with a shaker jar and shake for 10 seconds.
2. Pour into a tall glass (a Collins glass) and add blueberries. Top with lemonade, garnish with a lime wedge and serve.
Note: To make simple syrup, simmer equal amounts of sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved. Keep refrigerated.
Moroccan style frozen mint tea
Time: 20 minutes plus 1 hour of chilling
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon of Chinese whole leaf green tea, preferably gunpowder
½ cup green mint leaves, wrapped, plus sprigs for garnish
¼ cup honey or more to taste
1. Brew tea with 3 cups of water in a teapot with a sieve and let it steep for 10 minutes.
2. Put the mint in a small bowl. Add 1 cup of boiling water and mix in the mint. Let it steep for 5 minutes. Stir in honey. Strain into a 6-cup jug.
3. Slowly pour the brewed tea into the pitcher and hold the teapot at least a foot above the pitcher – this is the essential Moroccan technique for aerating the tea. Try tea for sweetness and adjust the amount of honey if necessary. Store in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
4. Pour tea into ice-filled glasses, garnish with mint and serve.
Cucumber, mint and avocado smoothie
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
½ cup of green mint leaves, packaged
1 cup chopped, peeled, and pitted cucumber (roughly a regular cucumber)
8 ounces pineapple juice
1 ripe but firm Hass avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ teaspoon of ground white pepper
pinch of salt
1. Put the mint, cucumber and pineapple juice in a blender and stir until smooth. Add the avocado and mix again. Add lemon juice, pepper and salt. Mix briefly. To use a food processor instead of a blender, first turn the machine on and push the mint into the filler neck. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.
2. Pour into one or more glasses and serve.