Opinion | An uneasy summer made better with mint recipes
An elegant mint-infused lemonade and a rustic ‘pudinawale aloo’ are enough to break away from the unpredictable weather and unsavoury news
While my favourite genre of series is Nordic noir, travel and food shows come a close second, especially for quarantine-watching. Given that the pandemic has quashed summer holiday plans and there’s no leisure travel happening in the foreseeable future, travel shows allow you to escape the grim reality of the present and dream a little about the places you want to visit in the future.
After finishing Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted and Restaurant On The Edge, both featuring stunning locations from around the world and their local food, I was elated to find Somebody Feed Phil back with a third season. This show features Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, eating his way through a city in each episode. His genuinely affable persona and funny bone make the show very watchable.
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In the first episode of season 3, Rosenthal took us along to Marrakesh. After the predictable rounds of the spice market and a beautiful meal of couscous with a local family, he got a hands-on lesson in making the iconic Moroccan mint tea from a few schoolgirls. It reminded me of a visit to Jordan a few years ago, when a bartender taught me how to make limonana. This lemon and mint cooler is the national drink of both Jordan and Israel. In the Jordanian version, they blend lots of mint leaves, peeled whole lemons (seedless), a lot of sugar and a jug of ice to get a green-coloured, intensely refreshing slushy.
Almost all Middle Eastern cuisine has a great love affair with this herb, using it in food and beverages alike. Lots of chopped mint and parsley form the bulk of a tabbouleh (a popular Middle Eastern salad) along with couscous. Mint is used generously in vegetable and meat dishes, soups, yogurt-based dishes and in dolmades (stuffed vine/grape leaves).
If you, like me, cannot bring yourself to drink water through the day, try infusing a jug of water with sprigs of mint and sliced lemons. You can also try sipping on a pot of herbal tea made with mint leaves and slices of ginger.
The flavour and the cooling sensation make it an ideal candidate in summer drinks and salads. Here’s a fun fact about why mint feels cooling. Menthol from mint binds to the receptors that detect a change in temperature. These receptors are present on cold-sensing nerve cells. It’s a contrast to the way capsaicin from chillies activates heat-sensing receptors.
Are you up for a spot of quarantine gardening? Mint is a good place to start. Sow existing stalks in a pot with one part each of garden soil, compost and coco peat. Water well and keep in semi-shade for five-six days. When you see new leaves sprouting, move the pot to a sunnier spot. Mint is best grown in pots because it is a highly invasive herb that takes over every free spot.
If you do end up with a lot of mint, either from your gardening efforts or your vegetable vendor, it is rather easy to dry. One way is to tie it into small bunches and hang these to dry from a string in a dim, well-ventilated spot. You can use a clothesline and a clip to dry. This process will take a week or two depending on the weather. The quickest way is to spread out washed and dried leaves on a paper and microwave them for 30-second burstsover 2-3 minutes. The leaves will dry out nicely while retaining the bright green colour.
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Here are two summer-friendly mint recipes for you to try.
4 medium potatoes, boiled
1 cup mint leaves (packed)
V tsp baking soda (a pinch)
K tsp oil
N tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 green chillies, sliced
2 tbsp gram, fried
N tsp turmeric powder
K tsp salt
1-2 tsp oil
Peel and dice the potato into chunks and keep in a bowl. Wash the mint leaves. Bring a small pan of water to boil. Keep a bowl of iced water handy. Add a tiny pinch of baking soda to the water. Immerse the mint leaves in the boiling water for 30 seconds and then remove with a slotted spoon. Drain and plunge into iced water. This process ensures that the mint leaves don’t turn dark when mixed with the potatoes.
Remove the mint leaves from water, squeezing them dry. Add to a mixer jar. In a small pan, heat K tsp oil. Fry cumin seeds and garlic until the seeds splutter. Transfer this into the mixer along with chillies, fried gram, turmeric, salt and lemon juice. Blend to a coarse paste. Scrape this into the bowl with potato chunks and toss gently to coat.
Heat 1-2 tsp oil in the pan, toss the mint-coated potatoes in this for 1-2 minutes on a low flame. Serve warm or cold as a salad, starter or as a filling for sandwiches.
MINT GINGER LEMONADE
Makes 2 glasses
K cup mint leaves (packed)
1 inch piece ginger, sliced
2 tbsp sugar (or any sweetener)
N tsp rock salt
2 cups water
5-6 ice cubes
2 mint leaves for garnish
In a blender, add mint leaves, ginger, juice of two lemons, sugar and salt. Blend to a purée along with 1 cup water.
Pass this through a fine meshed strainer into a bowl, extracting all the juices by pressing down well. Discard the solids. Return the juice to the blender with the remaining 1 cup water and 2-3 cubes of ice. Blend until foamy.
Take 1-2 ice cubes in each glass and divide the lemonade between the two glasses. Garnish with a mint leaf.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
FIRST PUBLISHED12.06.2020 | 02:16 PM IST