Herb for all seasons

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Herbs are a perennial favorite of both cooks and gardeners -&160;popular for their beauty, ease of growth and versatility.

And among the most versatile of herbs is mint. From the quintessential mint julep to subtlety of minted peas, the popular herb finds its home on many tables.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with some fresh mint – either shared by a friend or, better yet, cut from your own garden – consider these recipes, some of which are traditional and some of which provide a new twist for the old favorite.

Iced Mint Tea

4 cups boiling water, divided

6 mint sprigs

3 teabags

6 to 9 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

4 cups cold water

In separate bowls, pour two cups boiling water over mint sprigs and tea, and two cups over lemon juice and sugar. Let stand 15 minutes. Strain and combine. Add four cups cold water. Chill and serve with mint sprigs.

Adapted from Atlanta Cooknotes

Peas with Preserved Lemon and Mint

Preserved Lemon

2 lemons

1/4 cup coarse or kosher salt

2 cups shelled peas

1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves (about 3 sprigs)

2 tablespoons olive oil.

To prepare the preserved lemon: Halve and juice one of the lemons. Cut the other lengthwise into eight sections. Sprinkle the sections with some of the salt. Reassemble the lemon and pack it into a small jar. It should fit snugly. Sprinkle with the remaining salt and pour the lemon juice over the lemon. Seal the jar and store in the refrigerator for at least four days and up to a week, so that the lemon softens and loses its bite. Shake the jar from time to time.

For the dish, blanch the peas and plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain one lemon section, remove the pulp and cut it crosswise into very thin slices. In a medium bowl, toss the peas with the lemon, mint and olive oil. Serves 4.

Adapted from &uot;The Cook and the Gardener&uot; by Amanda Hesser

Grilled Lamb Chops with Warm Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Coarse or kosher salt

4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large very ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped fine

3 sprigs fresh mint, leaves stripped and left whole

12 lamb chops (about 1 – 1 3/4 inches thick)

Coarse or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the grill. The cooking rack should be about 5 or 6 inches from the fire.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine the vinegar, mustard and salt and whisk until the mustard is broken up and the salt has dissolved. Then slowly add the olive oil, first a few drops at a time, then in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing.

Combine the dressing and tomato in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. You want it to warm just enough to bring out all the flavor of the tomato. Keep warm while you grill the lamb chops.

Place the chops on the heated grill and let color, 4 to 5 minutes. Using tongs turn the chops and color the other side, another 4 to 5 minutes. For medium to well-done, grill chops 1 to 2 minutes longer on each side.

Remove the chops to a serving plate and season them with salt and freshly ground pepper. Whisk the vinaigrette to re-emulsify it, then add the mint leaves. Spoon over the chops and serve immediately. If you want to hold this dish, do not add the mint until you are ready to serve (the leaves will turn black).

Option: Serve chops on bed of spicy greens, such as arugula or mustard. The juices from the lamb and the vinaigrette will dress and lightly wilt the greens as the dish is presented at table.

Adapted from &uot;The Cook and the Gardener&uot; by Amanda Hesser

Mint Syrup

4 cups loosely packed mint leaves

White sugar

Green food coloring (optional)

Place the leaves in a saucepan with just enough water to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a jelly bag for one hour. For each cup of liquid, add 1 cup of sugar. Place the mixture in a pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Add food color, if desired.

Bottle, label and date. Alternatively, freeze in convenient proportions.

Adapted from &uot;The Complete Book of Herbs&uot;