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Minted

As a kid, my mum always made me get the fresh mint from the garden so she could make her favourite mint chutney.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Minted

But I didn’t get what the fuss was about. It was bright green, and didn’t taste half as nice as a Polo. What’s nice about that? And what wrong with tomato ketchup?

It was such a chore picking it and I’m sure mum only sent me out when it was raining so she didn’t have to go. And then after I’d pulled bunches of leaves off the plant it was her turn to be picky. ‘That one is brown, that one is too old… ooh, just don’t like that one…’. Grrrrr!

Of course, she knew what she was doing – only using the best and the freshest of anything. Soon I learned how to make that mint chutney - fresh, lemony, minty and hot - and, like most Indian food, really good for you. Now its probably one of my favourite dips ever and one that my friends always comment on so yes, you win AGAIN mum!

More than mint

There are some things in life that put a smile on your face and for me the smell of fresh mint is one of them. Mint, to get technical for a mo, is an aromatic perennial herb that comes from the Lamiaceae family. There are about 20 different varieties of this plant that vary slightly from colour, scent, leaf shape, size and so on. And there’s water mint, peppermint, garden mint, forest mint, apple mint, and loads more. Bet you never knew that!

For the garden

Mint is a fast-growing plant that does really well near water and in partial shade, but it’s also quite tough so it’ll tolerate even our UK weather conditions quite happily. The plant spreads very quickly through a system of runners, so if you’re growing this at home it’s best to do it in a deep bottomless tub embedded into the ground, or better still in pots above ground. Because it’s an invasive plant it will take over the whole of the flowerbed or herb garden so remember you’ll only need a few mint plants as they grow and spread wildly.

One more thing. Mint also repels some pests and attracts the ‘nice’ insects too (ie, not the ones that eat your entire garden in one sitting).

Using mint

Mint is rare in having that fresh, slightly sweet flavour with a cooling after sensation. The leaves can be used dried or fresh in sweets, deserts, different flavoured teas, as well as in hot spicy dishes. That cooling feeling makes mint (and menthol) perfect for flavourings, mouth fresheners, chewing gum and toothpastes. Just think where we’d be without it.

Other uses

In general, mint is thought to be a bit of a ‘pick me up’ and has lots of health benefits. Originally used as a home remedy to treat stomach cramps, it also works well as a decongestant so try it in a hot drink the next time you have a cold. Mint tea is thought to aid digestion as well, so it’s often drunk as an after dinner digestive (crème de menthe does this and it has alcohol in it – win win!).

The essential oils in mint are used in perfumes and in aromatherapy. It was known as the ‘herb of hospitality’ in Greek mythology and the leaves were used as air fresheners, but not in our pot pourri way. They would be thrown on the floor and as guests entered your home, they would walk on them and so help release a refreshing aroma (clever buggers, them Greeks).

Indian Cooking

Mint, or pudina as it is known in Hindi, is an essential ingredient in Indian food. Because of it’s almost citrusy freshness it is primarily used in for creating zingy chutneys, sharp relishes and cooling raitas. It’s chopped up into different marinades to produce light, summery meat dishes such as Green tikka,  as well as giving a wonderful fragrance to fresh salads and drinks like Lassi and nimbu pani (lemon water).

I also like to use mint leaves to freshen up some of my meat dishes, such as Briyani and Dhansak. This is the Moghul style of cooking, where it was all about using the best herbs and spices to produce dishes packed full of flavour.

Mint Infographic Showing the health benefits of Mint

Infographic provided by Hari Ghotra

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