If I had to choose one herb I couldn’t live without, mint would come pretty well top of the list. It’s got so much going for it. There’s something comforting about all those home-cooked dishes like peas and mint, baby potatoes and mint and lamb and mint sauce, but besides that, mint brings such a fresh sweet breath to any dish it is added to. I adore mint and chilli together with either lemon or lime, with or without garlic. Mint in a salad lifts the flavour of the other ingredients. Added to thick Greek yoghurt pungent with garlic, it makes the most glorious sauce to drizzle over kebabs, chickpea patés, dolmades or the like. A bowl of yoghurt, grated cucumber and mint will take the heat off the hottest curry.
Mint can cut the strong lingering fishy flavour of some oily fish. It can help cut through the fat of lamb. Scattered over a salad of podded broad beans, white cheese and rough salami, drizzled with grassy olive oil and splashes of lemon, it is arresting. Added to sliced vine-ripened tomatoes drizzled with lemon oil and sea salt, you’ll wonder why you’ve been hooked on the basil-tomato combination for so long. In short, mint has a life other than in breath fresheners and toothpastes, and beyond mum’s home cooking.
Mint prefers cooler conditions for growing, and will usually develop rusty leaves or die off in hot weather. Just cut it back and it will come away again in autumn. It’s at its most luscious in spring with new growth and a fresher scent.
Keep picked mint in an unsealed plastic bag lined with damp paper towels and refrigerate.
A nose-tinglingly fresh mint sauce with a vinegary bite was a standard accompaniment to a roast of lamb or hogget when I grew up. The sharp tangy vinegar cut through the fattiness of the meat (and lamb and hogget were much fattier then!), though its sharpness was tempered with sugar to produce a sweet-sour effect, and the welcome freshness of mint worked a treat. When mint is in abundance, grab a fresh bunch and get pounding! Serve with a roasted leg of lamb.
1 large handful of mint leaves
2 Tbsp caster sugar
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 Use gorgeously fresh unblemished mint. Rinse, shake off as much water as possible, then remove leaves from stems, pat dry with paper towels and measure. You need 1 tightly packed cup of leaves.
2 For the best flavour, pound mint with half the sugar in a mortar with a pestle until it turns to a purée. Alternatively, chop the mint with half the sugar using a large sharp knife. (Pounding or chopping the mint with sugar helps prevent it discolouring, although, it will still lose some of its brightness.)
3 Pour on hot water and the second tablespoon of sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add vinegar. Cool and serve.
Mint sauce will keep covered and refrigerated for several days. Ring the changes and add the finely grated zest of 1 orange, or sweeten with a little dissolved redcurrant jelly.