Just last week my herb garden was a sad sight. Hardly a sprout lifted its head from the dirt. (Dirt, not soil, is the operative word here.) This garden, if you can call it that, my pride and joy, measures about six square feet. It is rocky and riddled with roots seeking sustenance, ghosts of misbegotten bushes yanked, barehanded, from the ground during our recently isolated past. I forced those greens up from craggy patches of earth. Here, at the edges of downtown, there’s no such thing as gentle gardening, no coaxing plants into the sunlight. Muscular means of agriculture are called for when doing battle with small critters and large insects. Forcing up any type of vegetation requires brawny organic fertilizer, aggressive weeding and backbreaking willpower.
This past mild winter, the thyme plants never went to sleep. They stood patiently, rather stupidly, upright seeking sunshine. The rosemary dried out and gave up. And the basil just keeled over before the first frost. It’s an annual and needs seasonal replanting.
Suddenly one morning (was it yesterday?), the thyme sprouted blossoms. The oregano crept out in clumps around the rocks. And, the mint, oh, the mint! It burst out in lush green bunches, smelling fresh and bright on the morning breeze. If I were one of those people — and I’m not — who dries laundry outdoors, I would put the line right beside the mint patch.
I’m so flush with the herb that I give it away, pulled by the roots and stuffed into small pots. I’ve invited neighbors to take bunches into their gardens — warning that the stuff proliferates.
Now I’m putting mint to work in the kitchen, folding it into –, scattering it over –, and draping it on top of –, whatever I imagine. A sprig on strawberry shortcake for color. A blend with veggies and bulgur wheat for tabouli. A scatter over scrambled eggs for aroma. I’m even considering drying it and making mint and lavender sachets. (Who am I kidding?)
But I have done lots of things that don’t require hard work or intricate recipes:
-Garnishing a tall glass of lemonade or iced tea with a sprig or two.
-Muddling leaves into a mojito.
-Chopping it into potato, tuna or egg salad.
-Tossing the leaves, whole, with other herbs like basil, into a green salad.
-Sprinkling over pineapple slices, adding a scoop or cottage cheese for breakfast.
-Whirling into a cucumber-yogurt dip.
-More whirling into a morning berry-and-banana (and kale) smoothie.
-Stirring shards into a bowl of warm buttered peas, or one of icy sliced strawberries.
-Adding a collegial chop of chives-basil-cilantro to sliced cucumber, fennel, snap peas.
-Substituting strawberries for the snap peas in the above for a startling salad.
The list might go on until the garden runs its course. Here are some easy, no-cook recipes.
MINTED CUCUMBER-YOGURT DIP
Makes about 2 cups
Serve with cut veggies, toasted pita bread or grocery store pita chips.
1 medium cucumber, peeled
Salt, ground pepper, to taste
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
- Peel and cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon or a melon scoop; discard. Chop into a fine dice.
- Stir in remaining ingredients.
- Chill for one hour. Taste, adding salt and pepper, if needed.
In Havana and Key West, every other bartender claims that the Mojito was Hemingway’s favorite drink and points out his favorite barstool. The bartenders in between claim it was the Daiquiri. But, then, a Daiquiri doesn’t need mint.
10 fresh mint leaves
½ medium lime, sliced
2 tablespoons superfine white sugar (more or less to taste)
1 cup ice cubes
1-1/2 ounces white rum
½ cup club soda
- Place mint leaves, a lime slice and sugar in the bottom of a tall, heavy glass. With a muddler, crush them until lime juice, mint leaves and sugar mix.
- Fill the glass with ice cubes.
- Pour in the rum. Top with club soda or sparkling water; stir. Garnish with a lime slice and a mint sprig.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
This tastes even better with local tomatoes by deep summer. At that point, I put everything but the bulgur wheat into the food processor for a quick cool meal on a hot day.
1 cup medium grain bulgur wheat
2 cups minced fresh parsley leaves
1 cup minced fresh mint leaves
2 cups small cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
Salt, pepper, to taste
- Place bulgur in a bowl. Pour in enough cold water to cover it; soak, refrigerated, for one hour. Drain out any excess water.
- Place all the prepped herbs and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the bulgur and toss.
Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.