Fresh mint is one of the best herbs to have in your kitchen. This often-overlooked herb has a clean refreshing taste that can elevate simple home cooking into something special. Toss a few leaves in your morning smoothie, shower torn leaves on salads, blend it into a mint pesto, or add chopped mint to add to salsa for grilled vegetables.
Mint has been cultivated for thousands of years. It originated in Greece and made its way to England, where it gained popularity as an ingredient in a sauce served with lamb. Early American colonists brought mint with them from England to treat insomnia and headaches, but they also enjoyed drinking mint tea, not only for its flavor but because it wasn't taxed.
Just like the colonists, you can make mint tea. Just take a handful of mint leaves and pour boiling water over it to release its wonderful flavor and scent. Sweeten the tea with honey according to taste.
I have expanded my use of mint in cooking through the recent popularity of Middle Eastern cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi and Michael Solomonov. Tabbouleh (that wonderful salad of cracked wheat (bulgur), onion, tomatoes, parsley and mint) led the way and soon other delicious foods followed — zucchini and herb omelet, mint-flavored ground lamb kefta kabob, and watermelon salad with feta and mint.
There are as many as 30 varieties of mint, the most common being spearmint and wintermint (also known as garden mint). Mint will keep for about a week in your refrigerator. Trim the stems and place the bunch in a jar with water and cover with a plastic bag.
Sirloin Skewers with Zucchini, Mint and Rice
Yield: 4 servings
This recipe is adapted from "Martha Stewart's Grilling by Editors of Martha Stewart Living," Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House ($26).
Reach for a bottle of Montes 2016 Alpha Carmenre ($22) from Chile's Colchagua Valley to pair with this recipe. The wine's spicy flavors of toasted oak and red cherry adds delicious accents to each bite of the melt-in-your-mouth meat.
1 cup short-grain brown rice
3 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
8 ounces sirloin steak, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, halved crosswise and cut into spears
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for grill and drizzling
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Lime wedges, for serving
Soak 4 wooden skewers, if using, in water 30 minutes.
Bring rice and 2 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook rice until tender and water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in scallions.
Heat grill to medium-high. Thread beef onto skewers. Season beef and zucchini with salt and black pepper; drizzle with oil. Lightly oil grates. Grill beef and zucchini, turning occasionally, until cooked through and blackened in parts, 6 to 8 minutes for each. Transfer rice to a platter, and arrange beef and zucchini on top. Scatter with mint leaves and red-pepper flakes. Serve with lime wedges.
(Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-host of Food & Wine Talk on southfloridagourmet.com.)