One of the more common herbs we encounter is the cool and refreshing flavor of mint: in our toothpaste, gum, candy and teas. Profoundly aromatic as a plant (provided the plant does not go to flower), mint is my favorite herb to grow (and also one of the quickest growing and expansive plants I know). I would strongly suggest planting it in a pot versus in your garden, as it will rapidly take over and need to be kept tidy.
A perennial herb by classification, the invasive plant appears in a color range of dark green to greenish gray to purple, blue and occasionally yellow. The two most familiar varieties are peppermint and spearmint.
Peppermint is a hybrid species—a cross between spearmint and watermint. The uses are typically more medicinal (toothpaste, gum, shampoos, soaps and oils), however it does make a regular culinary appearance. Peppermint is commonly used in candies, ice cream and confectionery mint flavour.
Spearmint 's origin is fairly unknown due to its extensive cultivation. The "spear" part of the name comes from the leaf's pointed tips. While spearmint is used for many of the same purposes as peppermint, it makes a more regular appearance in drinks, such as mojitos, iced teas and mint juleps.
There are three ways I suggest using mint during the holidays: for cold beverages, for hot beverages and a meat rub.
A simple way to add panache and flavor to cold beverages is to add mint to your ice cubes. Take your mint leaves and place them in the cells of the ice cube trays (2-3 leaves per cell). You can use either cold, hot or boiling water for this recipe. If you choose to use hot or boiling water, make sure you are using heat-proof trays. Hot to boiling water will cause the mint to release more of its essential oils and flavor into the water, but can cause the mint to wilt and look unpleasant.
For hot beverages, I recommend incorporating mint into your hot chocolate (and I'm not talking about the packaged stuff). Mint and chocolate are excellent compliments to one another. This recipe is easy to make and will be a warming and refreshing holiday drink for your guests. See recipe below.
Some people prefer a delicious portion of roast lamb to a traditional turkey or ham during holiday meals. I have been experimenting regularly with lamb. Whether it is a bone-in leg of lamb, boneless leg of lamb, butterflied boneless leg of lamb, rack of lamb or lamb chops, a simple meat rub can go a long way in affecting flavor and succulence. You will not be disappointed with the result; my friends can attest to that. See the recipe below.
Real Hot Chocolate
6 cups of whole milk
2 cups of crushed bakers chocolate
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
6 drops of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of whole mint leaves
Heat the chocolate in a pan on the stove until it has liquified. Add your milk and whisk until the chocolate has properly fused with the milk. Wrap the whole mint leaves in cheesecloth and tie off at the top. Add in the cinnamon, vanilla and mint. Stir slowly until the cinnamon has dissolved into the liquid and continue to stir to allow the mint to release its flavor. Serve hot and top with whipped cream, shaved chocolate and a mint leaf.
Mint Meat Rub
In a food processor, combine:
2 cups of mint (spearmint or peppermint)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon of minced garlic
Juice from 1/2 of a large lemon
1 teaspoon of kosher (or sea) salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
Puree the ingredients until the rub is consistent and processed. Rub the puree on every bit of the lamb, place the meat in a roasting pan and cook according to the prescribed temperatures for the cut and size of the lamb you are cooking.
Live deeply, happy eating and Happy Holidays.