Let’s Talk Food: Easy to grow mint

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Spearmint

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Peppermint.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Southeast Asian Cabbage and Shrimp Salad, before the shrimp is added.

You don’t need to have a green thumb to grow mint, especially if you place it in a garden bed or large pot in a sunny spot.

Mint is perennial and will come back year after year, even through droughts (or if you don’t water them) and heat. Mint plants require little to no maintenance, and because of their running root system can take over the garden. If you do not want that to happen, plant them in pots. If you want to encourage bushy growth, pinch off the growing tips just above the first set of leaves. Those leaves are tender and are great as a garnish for your iced tea.

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Since I spent part of the week in Hilo, my greenhouse has been neglected. The only good plants that survived the neglect are my mint, although not too bushy.

If you do not have any mint and need to purchase them, place stems in a glass container of a couple of inches of water and cover the leaves loosely with plastic wrap or a resealable plastic bag, not sealing the bag. Refrigerate for up to one week, changing water every other day.

With more than 500 varieties of mint, which one should you plant?

Spearmint and peppermint are the two most common. Spearmint is grayish-green, has sharply pointed leaves and possesses a mild flavor and fragrance. It is great in iced tea.

Peppermint is more potent and has medium-sized bright green, saw-toothed leaves. They work well where their assertive flavors are needed. However, most recipes are not specific on the type of mint, so if you have to choose, go with peppermint.

Here are some refreshing salads with mint, perfect for the hot summer days we are experiencing now.

Southeast Asian Cabbage and Shrimp Salad

Serves: 6

Dressing:

1/2 cup fresh lime juice from about 6 limes

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeno pepper

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint

1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 garlic clove, minced

Salad:

6 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

1 1/2 cups shredded carrots

1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup vertically sliced red onion

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, cooked and peeled

1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced, about 1 1/2 cups

6 cups chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

Mint sprigs

To prepare dressing, combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until sugar dissolves.

To prepare salad, combine cabbage, carrots, mint leaves, sliced red onion, shrimp and cucumbers in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts, garnish with mint sprigs. Serve immediately.

•••

If you do not care for shrimp, this chicken salad with feat cheese might be perfect for you.

Chicken Salad with Mint and Feta

Serves: 6

3 cups chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast

1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup cubed peeled English cucumber

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mint sprigs for garnish

Combine all ingredients except mint springs in a large bowl; toss gently to combine. Garnish with mint sprigs.

•••

Ahi is in season right now. Here is a recipe for grilled ahi with a barley salad.

Grilled Ahi with Minted Barley Salad

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint, divided

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, divided

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 (6 ounces) ahi steaks

2 1/4 cups water

1 cup uncooked pearl barley

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups chopped green onions

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olive

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Cooking spray

Combine 1/2 cup mint, lemon rind, 4 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic in a shallow dish; add ahi, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil. Stir in barley, cover, reduce heat, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Spoon barley into a large bowl, cool slightly. Add remaining 1/4 cup mint, tomato, green onions, capers and olives, stir well with a whisk. Drizzle over barley mixture; toss gently to coat. Set aside.

Prepare gill or broiler.

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Place ahi on a grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray, cook 2 minutes on each side until tuna steaks are medium-rare or until desired degree of doneness. Spoon about 1 1/2 cups barley mixture onto each of four plates, top each with an ahi steak.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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