LONDON, ONTARIO, - Award-winning cookbook author Naomi Duguid can't contain her enthusiasm when she talks about all the ways she likes to use fresh mint.
"I use it all the time. It's one of my faves, my standbys. I have spearmint. I make mint tea a lot with it, big handfuls of it in the teapot, and it's wonderful. You can drink it cold or hot, iced.
"I mince it finely and often combine it with shiso (a Japanese herb) and put it on a Thai grilled beef salad. I make potato salad or beet salad with just oil and vinegar ... and I put in a whole mix of herbs — tarragon and mint and chives.
"Mint has such a lovely refreshing taste."
Mint was already established in the garden when Duguid moved into her Toronto home.
"I just improvise with it," she continues. "It's such an obvious thing if you're making a cold soup and mince a little mint and chives up and put it as a little flourish on top of a vichyssoise or even a hot soup. I use it in a salad. It refreshes anything really."
One of the few things she doesn't like about mint is the sometimes hairy texture of the leaves. So unless they are very tender, she minces or chops them finely. "Then you get all the flavour without the coarse texture."
All of Duguid's suggestions use raw mint, although she says her mother used to put a big sprig of it in the pot when cooking peas or even potatoes.
"The difference between mint and some other herbs is that you don't use it much in cooked dishes. You use it raw. You use dried versions of thyme and oregano in cooking. It's quite different. Whereas with mint, you can chop it up and put a little vinegar and oil and turn it into a dressing for lamb. It's gorgeous."
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Spicy Brussels Sprouts With Mint
If you're one of those people who still claims to hate Brussels sprouts, we guarantee you'll change your mind after trying this recipe. The sprouts are well browned, giving them a nice charred flavor. They're then tossed with Rice Krispies (that's right, the snap, crackle and pop kind) and dressed with a sweet-and-spicy vinaigrette. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/spicy-brussels-sprouts-wi_n_1058710.html" target="_hplink">Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Mint</a> recipe</strong>
Mango-Glazed Turkey Breast
Fresh mint and cilantro are blended together with mango chutney to make a refreshing sauce. It accompanies this mango-glazed turkey just right. Serve with a side of white rice for a complete meal. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/mango-glazed-turkey-breas_n_1058535.html" target="_hplink">Mango-Glazed Turkey Breast</a> recipe</strong>
Warm Rice Salad With Peas And Mint
This is no ordinary side dish. This white rice salad is cooked in a fragrant chicken broth with onions and shallots. It's then dressed with a vinaigrette and some fresh mint to brighten up the flavors. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/warm-rice-salad-with-peas_n_1061086.html" target="_hplink">Warm Rice Salad with Peas and Mint</a> recipe</strong>
Orecchiette With Pancetta, Peas And Fresh Herbs
This recipe highlights the flavors of spring and gives them some heat with the surprising addition of jalapenos. Adjust the amount of pepper used according to your heat tolerance. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/orecchiette-with-pancetta_n_1058585.html" target="_hplink">Orecchiette with Pancetta, Peas and Fresh Herbs</a> recipe</strong>
Herb-And-Endive Salad With Creamy Lime Dressing
Most times when we think of making a salad, herbs work as a simple accent. But in this salad, fresh herbs take center stage. Parsley, chives, basil, mint and tarragon make up most of this green salad and they're accented with slightly-bitter endive leaves. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/herb-and-endive-salad-wit_n_1058488.html" target="_hplink">Herb-and-Endive Salad with Creamy Lime Dressing</a> recipe</strong>
Roasted Mushrooms And Shallots With Fresh Herbs
Shallots and an assortment of mushrooms are roasted until golden perfection in sesame oil, garlic and ginger. When fully cooked the mushrooms are tossed with a mixture of fresh herbs: mint, dill and parsley. This makes a great spring side dish. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/roasted-mushrooms-and-sha_n_1058649.html" target="_hplink">Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots with Fresh Herbs</a> recipe</strong>
Rice-Noodle Salad With Chicken And Herbs
This quick and healthy meal is just the kind of recipe you'll want this time of year. It's light enough to satisfy your new spring appetite and easy to put together, leaving you plenty of time and energy to enjoy the great weather outside. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/rice-noodle-salad-with-ch_n_1058642.html" target="_hplink">Rice-Noodle Salad with Chicken and Herbs</a> recipe</strong>
Thai Crab-And-Green-Mango Salad
This light and refreshing salad will make a great lunch or a light dinner. It's perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and bitter satisfies all your cravings in just one meal. We particularly like the use of tart green mangos, as it contrasts well with the sweet crabmeat. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/thai-crab-and-green-mango_n_1058743.html" target="_hplink">Thai Crab-and-Green-Mango Salad</a> recipe</strong>
Curried Tofu-And-Avocado Dip With Rosemary Pita Chip
This is not your usual dip for crudites -- it's even better. Silken tofu, avocado, light sour cream and yogurt help make this dip extra creamy. And the lime, curry powder, garlic and mint guarantee that it's full of flavor. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/curried-tofu-and-avocado-_n_1058369.html" target="_hplink">Curried Tofu-and-Avocado Dip with Rosemary Pita Chips</a> recipe</strong>
Ginger Beef Salad
This fragrant Asian salad can be on your table in just a matter of minutes. It's hearty enough for a meal thanks to the roast beef, and is light and refreshing with the help of fresh mint and cilantro. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/ginger-beef-salad_n_1058406.html" target="_hplink">Ginger Beef Salad</a> recipe</strong>
White Butter Bean, Feta And Za'atar Spread
This spread is addictive -- and don't say we didn't warn you. It's a simple puree of rich butter beans, creamy feta, fresh mint and roasted garlic that you won't be able to get enough. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/white-butter-bean-feta-a_n_1061213.html" target="_hplink">White Butter Bean, Feta and Za'atar Spread</a> recipe</strong>
Chicken Breasts With Potatoes And Mashed Peas
What better side to go with a roasted chicken breast than minty spring peas -- and the fingerling potatoes make a nice addition too. When chicken is served with a pan sauce, you know your dinner will be a hit. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/chicken-breasts-with-pota_n_1058289.html" target="_hplink">Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas</a> recipe</strong>
Spicy Pea Fritters With Cilantro And Potato Raita
These chickpea fritters are light and spicy -- and they're only barely fried. They're spiced with red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, turmeric and fennel, making the cooling raita served on the side a very welcome addition. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/spicy-pea-fritters-with-c_n_1382631.html" target="_hplink">Spicy Pea Fritters with Cilantro and Potato Raita</a> recipe</strong>
Asparagus And Salmon Spring Rolls
Spring rolls wouldn't be nearly as good without the addition of fresh mint and other herbs, such as cilantro. This recipe is a little different than what you might find in an Asian restaurant, it uses smoked salmon in place of crab or shrimp which provides a nice, new flavor dimension. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/asparagus--salmon-spring_n_1062421.html" target="_hplink">Asparagus and Salmon Spring Rolls</a> recipe</strong>
Roasted Delicata Squash With Quinoa Salad
These brightly-colored little squash make quite an impression on a spring table. The quinoa that stuffs the baked delicata squash is dressed with honey and vinegar and mixed with apples, raisins, mint and arugula. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/roasted-delicata-squash-w_n_1058647.html" target="_hplink">Roasted Delicata Squash with Quinoa Salad</a> recipe</strong>
Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder With Almond-Mint Pesto
This succulent lamb recipe will make a roast like you've never had before. Not only is the pesto slathered onto the lamb as it bakes, but some is also reserved to serve atop. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/slow-roasted-lamb-shoulde_n_1058690.html" target="_hplink">Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Almond-Mint Pesto </a>recipe</strong>
Sauteed Mahimahi With Cucumber Mint Yogurt Sauce
Salmon filets are paired nicely with a creamy and cool sauce. The sauce will be the star of the dish, and it's so simple to put together. It's just a simple combination of cucumber, mint, lime, yogurt and jalapeno. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/sauteed-mahimahi-with-cuc_n_1056859.html" target="_hplink">Sauteed Mahimahi with Cucumber Mint Yogurt Sauce</a> recipe</strong>
This is no ordinary guacamole (not that there's anything wrong with traditional guac). This recipe really takes it up a notch. Melted monterey jack is poured over the avocado mixture and fresh mint is added to help make it feel a little bit lighter. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/cheese-topped-guacamole_n_1058283.html" target="_hplink">Cheese-Topped Guacamole</a> recipe</strong>
Spring Peas With Mint
Nothing says spring quite like green peas with fresh mint. This dish is the celebration of the end of winter and of the joyful summer ahead. Make a big batch, you won't be able to get enough of this light side dish. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/spring-peas-with-mint_n_1058716.html" target="_hplink">Spring Peas with Mint</a> recipe</strong>
Warm Artichoke And Goat Cheese Souffles In Endive Leaves
This recipe is a quintessential spring-time snack -- with peas, artichokes, endives and mint. This would make a great hors d'oeuvres for the first party of the season. <strong>Get the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/warm-artichoke-and-goat-c_n_1057308.html" target="_hplink">Warm Artichoke and Goat Cheese Souffles in Endive Leaves</a> recipe</strong>
Although spearmint and peppermint are the mainstays for culinary use, a large range of hybridized flavoured mints have also been developed — everything from grapefruit, ginger and chocolate to banana mint.
"Other people are fans and they love them, but I'm not," Duguid says. "I don't like them very much."
Dale Thacker of Bow Island, a small town between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge in southern Alberta, is one of the few mint farmers in Canada, and he and his brother and two neighbours account for "about a third of all the spearmint grown in North America."
Together they have about 1,400 hectares of mint, which they distil at their own plant into about 135,000 to 160,000 kilograms of pure spearmint oil per year, all of it destined for the toothpaste and chewing gum industries.
"They've tried to grow it in other regions of Canada, but it didn't do very well," Thacker says.
But the combination of the 975-metre altitude where the farms are located and the chinook winds that keep the fields relatively bare in winter are perfect for spearmint. Not so much for peppermint, which doesn't like northern latitudes. Thacker and company plowed up their peppermint last fall.
"Spearmint and peppermint look similar, but it's not the same plant at all. It has totally different growing characteristics, certainly different flavours." Varieties of mint with exotic flavours generally originate as the result of a cross between other plants and peppermint, he says.
It takes about three years of intensive and expensive work to establish a large crop of mint, Thacker says. "But once you get it started it's fairly robust."
"Aggressive" is a word used to describe mint by Mark Cullen, probably Canada's best-known gardener. Cullen, based in Unionville, Ont., says the best way to start mint for a home garden is to buy a nursery plant or dig up some roots from an established plant.
But he calls the perennial a "bully" that will try to take over the whole garden and suggests planting it inside the walls of a large coffee or juice can that has both ends removed and has been pushed half or two-thirds of the way into the earth. "That will hold it in place more or less." It will also do well in pots, where there is no danger of spreading.
"It tends to like an open, loamy soil, rather than clay, but once it's established, it has a reputation for growing in just about anything," he says.
"You can plant as soon as the frost is out of the ground. You can start to harvest it as soon as you have substantial top growth," in six to eight weeks, and it produces useable leaves most of the summer.
Mint likes a lot of water, he says. "But it's also tolerant of reasonable drought conditions. You can let it get quite dry come July and it's not going anywhere. It may stop growing ... but it'll bounce back. It rehydrates very nicely."
Because of the downy leaves, it's also not susceptible to common garden pests such as aphids or slugs.
Cullen is a big fan of mint but less for its culinary use (although he likes that too) than its ornamental value.
"It has a terrific bloom (in June) that attracts pollinators like honeybees and butterflies in a big way. And it's quite fragrant. If you have enough of it growing in your garden, you'll be aware of it with your eyes closed because it's pretty powerful.
"I grow 100 times more mint than my wife uses because I love those flowers."
To contact Susan Greer, email her at susan.greer(at)rogers.com.
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