Mint has a great deal to say. This persistent perennial contributes refreshing coolness to food and drink, often with a bittersweet edge and sometimes spiked 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. Frankly, it's hard to overdo its use. Mint is also easy to grow in a window box or garden, allowing for leaves to always be on hand, especially come spring.
There are various kinds of mint, but the default option is spearmint, which is less aggressive on the palate than peppermint. If you purchase cut mint at a produce counter or farmers market, just be sure it has a good aroma. As for dried mint on the spice rack, it's often used in Persian cooking, but it's a ghost of the fresh kind.
Mint is a wonderful flavor to enrich warm-weather coolers. Among the best drinks on the cocktail menu at Cheeca Lodge, a resort in the Florida Keys, is a nojito, an alcohol-free mojito that's so tart-sweet and fragrant you might not miss the rum. Mint also stars in Moroccan-style tea, usually served sugared and hot but also delicious iced, and can add a cool dimension to smoothies.
Refreshment is on the way.
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
8 spearmint leaves
3 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons simple syrup (see note)
4 ounces club soda
Lime wedge for garnish
Lightly crush mint leaves, and place in a cocktail mixing glass with lime juice and simple syrup. Fill with ice. Cover with shaker can, and shake for 10 seconds.
Pour into a tall glass (a Collins glass), and add blueberries. Top with club soda, garnish with lime wedge and serve.
Note: To make simple syrup, simmer equal quantities sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Keep refrigerated.
— Adapted from Cheeca Lodge, Islamorada, Florida
Iced Moroccan- Style Mint Tea
Time: 20 minutes plus 1 hour chilling
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon Chinese full-leaf green tea, preferably gunpowder
1/2 cup spearmint leaves, packed, plus sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup honey, or more to taste
Brew tea with 3 cups water in a teapot with a strainer, allowing it to steep 10 minutes.
Place mint in a small bowl. Add 1 cup boiling water, and muddle the mint. Set aside to steep 5 minutes. Stir in honey. Strain into a 6-cup pitcher.
Slowly pour brewed tea into the pitcher, holding the teapot at least a foot above the pitcher — this is the essential Moroccan technique to aerate the tea. Taste tea for sweetness, and adjust the amount of honey if needed. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Pour tea into ice-filled glasses, garnish with mint and serve.
Cucumber-Mint Avocado Smoothie
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
1/2 cup spearmint leaves, packed
1 cup chopped, peeled and seeded cucumber (about one regular cucumber)
8 ounces pineapple juice
1 ripe but firm Hass avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of salt
Place mint, cucumber and pineapple juice in a blender, and blend until smooth. Add avocado, and blend again. Add lemon juice, pepper and salt. Blend briefly. To use a food processor instead of a blender, first turn on the machine and force the mint down the feed tube. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
Pour into 1 or more glasses and serve.