Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

25 Days of Herbs and Celebrations -- December 15

Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

My Spearmint

Day 15
Herb: Mint, Mentha from the Lamiaceae (Mint) family which includes its relatives such as Basil and Lavender.  Mentioned in the bible Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42 "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Mint along with other herbs were so valued they were used as a form of currency.

"As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits" --Pliny the Elder

Meet The Neighbors – The Lamiaceae Family – The Mint Branch!
By Catherine, The Herb Lady - originally from my Newsletter  January 18, 2003
     Lamiaceae (formerly labiatae) is the well-known and well loved mint Family.  Botanically, the members of this family have a square stem, two-lipped flowers, and simple usually undivided leaves.  Many are herbs such as lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and of course the mints--and it is the mints we will visit with today.
     As neighbors, mints are an old established family.  Grandma planted them under an old leaky faucet, because they just love to play in the water!  One of the few herbs that likes its feet wet, mint needs damp (not wringing wet) soil and a bit of shade in the western summer afternoons.  Once established this family of herbs can easily take over the neighborhood. The incredible list of scents and flavors is due in part to its willingness to make new friends, i.e., plant two different side-by-side and you will eventually have a third kind--one reason for separating your beloved favorites to keep them really separated.  Cross-strains can produce wonderful results or something not quite so wonderful.
     The main group of mints is called by its Latin name Mentha. While the origins are a little sketchy the word Mentha may have come through the Greeks for a wood nymph named Mentha who got on somebody's bad side and was turned into the plant mint.
     Now the family members: Mentha piperita (peppermint) and mentha spicata (spearmint) are probably the best known examples, with peppermint being one of the children of the marriage of spearmint and water mint (mentha aquatica).  Mint goes back to antiquity. It is mentioned in the Bible and there are several species traceable to ancient Asia and Europe.
     There are so many varieties of mint that you essentially pick a flavor and someone will have come up with it. Varieties include most of the citrus family:  orange, lime, and grapefruit.  There is a chocolate mint (part of the peppermint branch), even Margarita Mint  (that smells and tastes like sweet Margarita mix) and variegated Pineapple Mint, to name just a very few.
Spearmint and Peppermint are the two most common mints and are used in very different ways in cooking.
Peppermint is most associated with foods like candy canes for its robust menthol flavor, a favorite for mint tea when someone has a tummy ache.
Spearmint contains only small amounts of menthol making the flavor lighter and ‘sweeter’.  Spearmint is still used for mint tea for digestive issues primarily for children.
It is spearmint which is called for in most recipes for salads, meats (mint jelly is a traditional accompaniment to Lamb) and side dishes.
Many years ago I read that the Chef at the Savoy Hotel in London put a bit of chopped spearmint in his sandwich salads and we were hooked.  Deane asks me when I prepare egg, tuna or chicken salad for lunch if I remembered to put the spearmint in!
Low Salt/fat Cooking
From my cookbook “101+ Recipes from The Herb Lady”

            "Green Sauces" are an excellent way to enhance a low fat/salt diet. There are green sauces in German and Mexican cooking.

Salsa Verde
1/2       cup fresh parsley leaves
1/2       cup fresh basil leaves
1/4       cup fresh mint leaves
1/4      cup epazote leaves
1/2       teaspoon coarse mustard
2          tablespoons olives or capers, chopped
2          tablespoons water
1-3      tablespoons lemon or lime juice
            Combine, mashing all ingredients with 2 tablespoons of water, then continue mixing adding additional water/juice to make a thick sauce. It should not be runny.
            This sauce can be used to stuff (or spread on top of) fish or chicken before steaming, baking or grilling. Use to lightly coat boiled new potatoes or as a sauce for grilled or steamed vegetables.

Zucchini/Edamame Salad
            Gardeners and cooks like to joke about what to do with all that zucchini. Slaws are the answer!

2          cups shredded zucchini
2          cups cooked green soybeans (edamame)
Rice wine vinegar
1/4      cup finely shredded spearmint
Olive Oil

            Toss zucchini with a couple of good splashes of the vinegar. Add soybeans, sprinkle with Spearmint, and mix with zucchini. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat salad, salt to taste and mix gently.

Mint needs it own dedicated place or large container where you can keep an eye on it because it will quickly and completely take over.  My trowel and error with my beloved Kentucky Colonel Spearmint was when I allowed it to consume an 8 by 10 foot bed and the resulting removal was huge!  It now occupies a pot set on bricks where I can keep an eye on it.   Companion plant mint with chamomile, cabbage family, squash, tomato, but not parsley.
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas 
Bing Crosby
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Gene Autry

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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