Summer refresher–fresh mint. Can you smell that minty fragrance?

Mint is the antidote to summer. Its crisp, cool fragrance and refreshing green taste will perk up your spirits and cut through the mugginess when temperatures soar. 

Mint is widely used in Spanish cooking. It’s the essential final touch to sopa de picadillo, a broth with chopped ham; with Málaga-style seafood fideos, a noodle casserole; with fresh fava beans, peas and artichokes. (See at the end of this post for links to more recipes with mint.) Mint is even more prevalent in Middle Eastern and Turkish cooking. 

As recipient of a bucketful of fresh mint, I found dozens of ways to use this common herb. Mint is good in any part of the meal, from savory to sweet—in cocktails (think mojitos, mint juleps), in soups, salads, sauces, desserts, beverages (essential for ice tea). 

I gave up trying to identify the various mint varieties to be found, in my garden, in the market and in recipes. “Garden mint,” “mojito mint,” spearmint and hierba buena seem to be interchangeable. Peppermint, menta, is different, stronger, but would still work in most of these recipes. 

Crisp, fresh summer salad with zucchini curls, chopped fresh mint and a hint of mint in the lemony dressing.

Cool as a cucumber and mint. This chilled soup with yogurt is a refreshing summer starter.

A piquant salsa verde with mint is perfect with grilled foods. 

Add fresh mint to your breakfast smoothie.

Summer’s wonderful stone fruits embellished with a light mint syrup and chopped fresh mint.

Moroccan mint tea turned into a sprightly sorbet, or maybe it’s more of a granita.

Once cut, fresh mint will keep a day or two if the stems are submerged in water. But, the best way to keep it fresh is to pick sprigs off the stems,  wash the sprigs or leaves (sluice in cold water and dry in a salad spinner) then store in plastic bags in the crisper of the fridge . Mint leaves can be dried for using when the fresh is not available. Spread on a tray in a well-ventilated (but not windy) location until they are completely dried. Crumble and keep in air-tight jars.

Summer Salad with Zucchini and Mint

Ensalada con Calabacín y Hierba Buena

The salad ingredients can be prepped in advance. Refrigerate them until ready to assemble the salad shortly before serving. Add diced goat cheese to the salad, if desired. If fresh goat cheese is not available, try using feta.

Serves 4-6.

For the salad:

4 ounces zucchini (about ½ zucchini)

1 head romaine lettuce

1 cup cherry tomatoes

Sliced radishes

¼ cup thinly sliced onions

¼ cup chopped parsley

¼ cup chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped celery leaves

Lemon-mint dressing (recipe below)

Salt flakes to serve

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh white goat cheese, diced (optional)

Use a vegetable peeler to cut long thin slices from the zucchini. Wash and spin dry the romaine. Tear it into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter or place in a large salad bowl. Scatter the tomatoes, radishes and onions on top. Fold or curl the zucchini slices and place them on the salad. Sprinkle parsley, mint, chives and celery over all. Drizzle with the dressing. Add salt flakes and pepper. Scatter diced cheese on the top, if using.

For the lemon-mint dressing:

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped mint

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic, mint, zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir or shake the dressing before adding to salad.

Persian Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup with Mint

Sopa Fría de Pepino y Yogur con Hierba Buena

This recipe is adapted from one I use frequently from the cookbook by Maideh Mazda, In a Persian Kitchen (Tuttle; 1969). Iranian cooks use both fresh mint and dried in recipes. 

Persian cucumbers, if you can get them, are short and thin-skinned. They do not have to be peeled. Peel other cucumbers and discard center seeds if they are very developed. Cut the cucumber into small (3/8 inch-) dice. 

I used Greek yogurt to make an exceptionally creamy soup. If the soup seems very thick, thin it with cold water. Serve with a little cracked ice, if desired. Sumac is a sour spice that can be sprinkled on top. Rose petals, too, are optional.  

Serves 6.

¼ cup sultanas

2 ½ cup Greek yogurt

2 cups diced cucumber

¼ cup chopped scallions

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup cold water, as needed

Cracked ice, to serve

Mint leaves, to garnish

Sumac (optional)

Rose petals (optional)

Place the sultanas in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Soak them 5 minutes and drain.

Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl and stir until it is smooth. Add the cucumber, scallions, mint, parsley and sultanas. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill the soup.

When ready to serve, stir the soup to mix well and thin with cold water, if necessary. Serve the soup into shallow bowls. Add a little cracked ice to each. Garnish with mint leaves, sumac and rose petals, if using.

Mint Salsa

Salsa con Hierba Buena

This sauce is between a salsa verde and a chimichurri, a mojo verde or chermoula with mint instead of cilantro. Try it with lamb chops or chicken breast, salmon burgers or tuna, or, for vegetarians, grilled eggplant. 

1 cup lightly packed mint leaves

1 cup parsley

1 shallot

5 cloves garlic

1 jalapeño

1 teaspoon oregano

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

In a food processor finely chop the parsley, shallot and garlic. Add the jalapeño, oregano, oil, vinegar and salt and process. Add water and blend again. 

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

Minted Melon Smoothie

Batido de Melón con Menta

The perfect summer breakfast, made with non-fat, probiotic yogurt, or a luscious dessert if whirled instead with rich Greek yogurt. Freeze the diced melon a few hours before making the smoothie. Substitute raspberries for the blueberries for a pink smoothie.

For one smoothie:

1 cup diced melon

½ cup blueberries

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

½ cup plain yogurt

Blueberries and mint to garnish

Place the diced melon in a freezer container and freeze at least 3 hours.

Place the frozen melon, blueberries, mint and yogurt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Serve immediately in a tall glass garnished with a few blueberries and a mint sprig.

Minted Fruit Salad

Macedonia de Frutas 

This is a ravishing way to enjoy summer fruits. I’ve used all stone fruit—nectarines, apricots and cherries that are at their peak right now. But you can mix it up with berries, figs, melon, grapes. A little mint simple syrup adds sweetness and fresh mint fragrance. Serve the fruit salad in bowls, cups or martini glasses with sprigs of fresh mint. 

Lemon juice keeps the fruit from turning dark and adds a nice tang. Ginger is optional, but seems so good with the mint.

Serves 4 to 6.

4 cups sliced or diced fruits

1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice

Grated fresh ginger (optional)

2 tablespoons Mint Simple Syrup (recipe follows)

Sprigs of fresh mint to garnish

Combine the fruits in a bowl with lemon juice and ginger, if using. Gently stir in the simple syrup. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve, up to 8 hours.

To serve, spoon the fruit and some of the juice into individual bowls. Garnish them with sprigs of fresh mint.

Mint Simple Syrup

Almíbar Ligero de Hierba Buena

This light sugar syrup infused with mint flavor is perfect for mojito making, for adding to sauces, fruits, ice cream. Keep it in a covered jar in the refrigerator. 

Makes about 2 1/3 cups syrup. 

2 cups water

¾ cup sugar

1 cup lightly-packed mint leaves

Combine the water and sugar in a pan. Bring to a boil. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add the mint. Simmer 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mint to steep 20 minutes. Strain.

Store the syrup in a covered jar and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Sorbet of Moroccan Mint Tea

Sorbete de Té Marroquí

Authentic Moroccan mint tea is made with Chinese gunpowder green tea, lots of sugar and fresh mint, steeped in a silver-plate pot and poured from on high into decorative glasses. 

For this version, I’ve used tea bags of green tea and somewhat reduced the sugar. I intended to serve it as ice tea, but decided to freeze it instead. The alcohol in the liqueur keeps it from freezing rock-hard. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream churn, if you have one. Otherwise, beat it smooth with an immersion blender. The texture is more of a granita than sorbet.

Note that the tea sorbet is not green. Both the green tea and the infused mint make an amber-colored brew. It turns almost white when whipped with a blender or churn.

Serves 6.

4 cups water

3 green tea bags

¼ cup sugar

1 cup packed fresh mint sprigs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)

2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)

Fresh mint to serve

Bring the water to a rolling boil and add the tea bags. Boil 1 minute and add the sugar. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar completely. Add the mint and bring to a boil once more. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the tea to steep 15 minutes.  

Pour the tea through a strainer. Discard tea bags and mint. Cool the tea, then chill in the refrigerator. 

Add lemon juice, orange blossom water and Cointreau, if using, to the tea. Pour it into an ice cream churn and freeze according to directions. Otherwise, place the tea in a deep metal bowl and freeze for 2 hours. Use an immersion blender to break up the clumps of frozen tea. Return to the freezer. Repeat, beating the ice every two hours until it is smooth and frozen solid. Cover tightly to keep.

Use a large spoon dipped in water to scoop sorbet to serve. Garnish with fresh mint. 

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