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Mint imperial

I may not have inherited my parents’ green fingers, but at least there’s mint. It can be relied upon to thrive under my neglect; as long as I don’t try to control it, or pamper it in any way, it continues to turn out downy, palm sized leaves, especially at this time of year. Of course, there are many varieties of mint. Two have gone bananas in my garden: Vietnamese mint, and spearmint. Here I’m referring to spearmint, which looks a lot like peppermint but has a much milder, sweeter taste with a fraction of the menthol content.

Not being a fan of mint sauce (how unpatriotic for a Kiwi) I find other ways to make a small dent in the bounty. Undoubtedly the thing I do most often is to pluck a handfuls of leaves, checking them for caterpillars and cat hairs (our cat likes to nap in beds of mint, thyme or jasmine) and sacrifice them under just-off-the-boil water. I haven’t yet made to Morocco, but the smell of mint tea always takes me back to the steep streets of Granada, where my husband’s Arabic went much further than my rudimentary Spanish. Cold winter’s days were spent traipsing around the hauntingly beautiful Alhambra, its ghosts following us down the steep hill in a whirl of rusty leaves until we’d hike up a rickety staircase into the refuge of a kilim-strewn, lamp-lit Moroccan tea house, the first sip of mint tea bringing with it a sense of balance and calm.

Continuing on a Mediterranean trail, chopped mint releases a burst of freshness into yoghurt sauce, tabbouleh and lamb koftas. And when watermelon season finally settles in, my mint is on high rotate making one of my favourite salads: cubes of flesh-red watermelon with crumbled feta, thinly sliced red onion and chopped mint, dressed simply in lemon juice and olive oil with a little black pepper and sea salt.

Peppermint, with its stronger flavour, is better for baking with, but spearmint is still a worthy addition: I’m a big fan of Jordan Rondel’s Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies, and homemade ice cream spiked with fresh mint and shards of dark chocolate is a simple, classy dessert to serve guests.

Of course it’s essential in mojitos, but it’s highly irritating that lime season hits when the mint in my garden is rather scrappy. Right now I’m thankful for the time I took to freeze litres of lime juice a few months ago. When my lemon tree is adorned in kilos of gold, however, the mint is begging to be picked. I make a sugar syrup infused with mint leaves then blend it with plenty of ice and lemon juice. Strain the frothy mixture into tall glasses for the perfect post-gardening (I do try, I’m just not a natural) refresher.


*This story originally ran in Sunday magazine


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