a $2 bunch of mint yields at least 3 different applications (and then some)

While gathering ingredients for some homemade summer rolls (another story unto itself, I suppose,) I procured the most seemingly innocent bunch of fresh mint at my local market. When I got it home, I unpacked the bunch for washing and discovered this tiny looking bunch ended up being about 10 cups worth.

As I really only needed about 2-3 sprigs for the summer rolls we were making for the next few nights, that means I had the rest of the bunch to use up. My first thought was for a basic mint pesto (throw in some walnuts, a little oil, some citrus and whizz it up) but then my mind immediately went to a more obvious pairing (and one which I already had everything I needed in the pantry) – pea and mint dip. Dip chips, vegetables, a spoon. This stuff is way tasty and will go fast.

Pea & Mint Dip

makes about 2 cups

  • 10 oz. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. packed mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • splash or two of water
  1. microwave the peas or about 60-90 seconds till they’re just barely warm and thawed
  2. add everything in a blender (or use a hand-blender) and salt to season and blend. Add just enough water to help with blending and to get the right consistency. The resulting dip should be smooth and of hummus consistency.
The next application was probably the most satisfying in its results. Again, my mind started in one direction, then immediately went in another. When I think of fresh mint, I mostly think of it steeped in milk for 10 minutes or so and then used as a basis for ice cream. But, honestly, I didn’t feel prepared to make any ice cream, so instead, I packed up a small food processor with as many mint leaves as it would hold, then covered with sugar, and processed for 60-90 seconds. Wowee! The sugar tastes undeniably of mint and will end up infusing all sorts of true mint flavor in a number of applications, but probably a whole mess of ice cream.

Mint Sugar

  • fresh mint leaves
  • sugar
  1. pack a food processor with fresh mint, top off with sugar and process till mint is well distributed in the sugar.
From here it was another obvious leap to create another flavor infuser, namely some mint extract. Most flavoring extracts are alcohol based, so another real simple “recipe” here. Your average 2 oz. bottle of mint extract costs at least $5. I’ll end up with about 8 oz. and it’ll cost me about 50¢. Take some mint, through it in jar, cover with alcohol, and let it steep for a few weeks. Up to you whether you want to leave the mint in after the few weeks or not. I ended up emptying a bunch of old bottles of rum and vodka I had laying around. Again, this is all about getting some fresh mint flavor injected in all sorts of things. But, probably a whole mess of ice cream.

Mint Extract

  • 1/2 c. packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 c. vodka (or any other alcohol you’ve got laying around)
  1. pack the mint leaves into a clean glass jar.
  2. cover with the alcohol and let it steep for a few weeks.
And, while mint is sure to be amply available throughout the current months (even in our backyard garden,) my pantry is well stocked with memories of that magical $2 bunch of mint. (And soon, my freezer with mint ice cream.)
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if I could save thyme in a bottle – a few things to do with leftover herbs

As the outdoor growing season comes to a glorious, but certain end — at least for our humble outdoor garden — thoughts turn to how to keep the summer alive throughout the rest of the year. In our garden, we grew hot peppers that weren’t hot, green zebra tomatoes that never materialized, lettuce that provided just a couple of small salads, and collection of herbs that’s been picking up the slack. All summer and still we’ve been treated with loads of chives, basil, mint, thyme, parsley, dill, and tarragon. Here’re a few ways to make the most of these as the summer slips away. And consider these applications for any fresh herbs you’ve got, whether you grew them or not.

 

The season closes on the patio garden

The season closes on the patio garden

 

Drying Fresh Herbs

This is by far the easiest way to save and store any leftover herbs. It’s always the truest way to retain the true flavor of the herbs. I’ve tried and seen a number of techniques for drying fresh herbs — hanging bunches upside down, using a fan, a dehydrator, or even the microwave. By far the simplest and least messy is using egg cartons. I always seem to have a spare laying around for recycling. Just throw your herbs inside, close the top, and leave out for about a week. Once the leaves are dry, I remove the herbs from their stems over a flexible cutting board. Then put the dried leaves into a jar for storage.

 

Thyme drying in an egg carton

Thyme drying in an egg carton

 

Herb Salt

I got this idea from a unbelievably epic meal I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. One of the many seasonal and local courses that came out of the kitchen that night was a simple basket of bread with butter and two small ramekins of tomato and mushroom salts. They had dehydrated the tomatoes and mushrooms and pulverized them into powders which they mixed in with salt. The result was a flavorful addition to the breads, tasting unmistakably of mushroom and tomato. In an attempt to recreate this, I took some dried thyme (using the technique above) and combined with kosher salt, using one part herb, two parts salt, and ran this mixture through a mini-chopper. I also plan on using this same technique with mint and sugar.

 

If I could save thyme in a bottle

If I could save thyme salt in a bottle

 

Herbed Vinegar

You don’t have to dry your herbs for this one. And the variations are pretty endless. Given I’ve got an abundance of tarragon (an herb I’ve not usually had much luck cultivating) and an inclination to use tarragon in a variety of salads, I opted to make an tarragon-infused vinegar. Stick with a light vinegar in order to appreciate the herbal flavor you’ll infuse — rice, white, champagne vinegars are all good choices. Stronger flavored vinegars like balsamic and sherry will overpower any subtlety the herbs might impart. Dead simple. Heat your vinegar (enough to fill whatever vessel you’re going to store the vinegar in,) stuff the herbs in said vessel, and pour the warmed vinegar into the bottle. Let the liquid cool down before screwing on the lid. After a week you  can fish out the herbs, or you can just leave them in. Use your vinegar as a dressing by itself or as part of a vinaigrette. Or use to brine pickles. A tarragon vinegar would make a great basis for a cornichon recipe.

 

Tarragon vinegar

Tarragon vinegar

 

Herbed Oil

Just about the same procedure as for vinegar. I went with rosemary, chive, and basil oils. I plan on using the rosemary oil for dressing and seasoning meats for roasting or grilling, while I’ll use the chive and basil oils for seasoning vegetables. And any of these would be great on a pizza or bread dough or for popping popcorn.

 

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

Basil, Chive, and Rosemary oil in recycled jars

 

Got any other grand ideas for that bountiful harvest of herbs? Let me know.