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Freshly Minted Summers

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Mint carries with it the taste of summer, whether you’re kicking back with an icy mojito or tossing a few fresh leaves into a dinner salad.

It’s also easy to grow, if you keep it watered in this blazing heat, which means you can experiment with it to your heart’s content.

Noted cookbook author and culinary shopkeeper Melissa Guerra, who has a store at the Pearl Brewery’s Full Goods building, remembers her grandmother adding mint to iced tea, a true summertime favorite.

An adult variation that reminds me of my childhood in Louisville, Ky., is, of course, mint juleps with sweet bourbon splashed over crushed ice and a tangy drizzle of minted syrup gently stirred in.

For several years now, I have shared mint from my yard with Barb Price, a retired missionary, who uses it as the basis for her version of Fatoush. She has shared her recipe for the Lebanese salad that also features tomato, avocado, garlic and toasted pita chips. (Click here.)

Jason Dady uses it in various ways in his restaurants. “I use it in a soft shell crab dish right now” at the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, he says. “We use it frequently at Tre Trattoira for our spaghetti dish with braised duck, English peas and ricotta salata.”

Foodie and public relations specialist Nancy Scott Jones grows her own year-round. “I love it in fresh green salads almost more than basil,” she says. “Somehow, it adds so much more to a salad than using basil only.  I love a basil-mint pesto. Basil alone is bitter, the mint balances it. And sometimes I’ll use mint alone with tomatoes-olive oil and lemon or wine vinegar.”

She recently served a Chilled Seafood Salad with an herb-infused olive oil that had an extra brightness from mint in the dressing. (Click here for the recipe.)

You have an option when it comes to growing mint: Keep it in a pot or let it take over your backyard.

As local food writer Chris Dunn phrases it, “In this climate, mint grows so easily that it often becomes a victim of its own success. If planted in the ground, it will quickly take over an entire bed (or yard) and choke out all the other plants.

“I prefer to corral my mint in a pot, but it needs to be a large one to accommodate mint’s  tendency to rapidly become root bound.  It performs best when grown in sun to part shade, in moist but well drained soil, and cut back often. Periodically, it is good to take cuttings from a mature plant, root them in water, and start over again with new plantings.”

I am one of those who chooses to let it take over the backyard. From one spearmint plant, put in the ground about 8 years ago, I now have a patch that measures 4 feet by 10 feet. I don’t have to mow it, just keep a few grass weeds pulled. That way, I have more than enough. I can make pots of mint tea, which is pure refreshment in this heat. I can hang bouquets to dry, giving the kitchen a heady aroma. I also use it as table decorations with a few pieces of rosemary.

“There are many varieties available, from chocolate mint to apple, banana, and even pineapple mint,” Dunn says, “but spearmint is my favorite for all around use both in savory and sweet applications.  In addition to being the ubiquitous garnish for desserts ranging from sorbets to fruit tarts, it is also the perfect complement to many Middle Eastern savory dishes, such as roast lamb with mint sauce, tzatziki yogurt sauce used as an accompaniment to gyros, and the summer classic, tabbouleh.

“The ingredients in tabbouleh are what make it so seasonally perfect, featuring mint, parsley, and tomatoes tossed with bulghur wheat dressed with olive oil and lime juice (I like to add sweet basil right before serving).  You can also create variations on classic tabbouleh by substituting other prepared grains, such as farro wheat (from Italy), barley, or kasha (buckwheat).”

Another way Dunn likes to use mint is in Shrimp Brushetta Limoncello (click here for recipe).

Harvest mint with a pair of scissors snipping off only as much as you need. “In cutting mint, I like to treat it more gently than parsley, either using small whole leaves or only coarsely chopping it with a sharp knife to avoid bruising them,” Dunn says.

You can also cut them cleanly with scissors. Cut some and sprinkle it on watermelon. Let the two set for a few minutes before serving, and taste yet another way to enjoy summer.

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