Simply food

NEWLY MINTED FAVOURITES

Z SOUP 2

Zucchini and mint soup

With mint taking over my townhouse garden, I’m looking for new ways to use the fragrant herb – minty cold pea soup that is a delicious start to a warm weather dinner and hot zucchini and mint soup that is a tasty meal on its own.

Mint is an outstanding herb to grow for apartment dwellers, as long as they have a reasonably sheltered balcony. When I lived downtown, I always kept pots of mint, parsley and basil on the go, and now that I have a bigger green space, I still keep the herbs in pots. Mint is a perennial, so if one were to plant it in the garden, it would probably survive our northern winter. The downside is that it is invasive and will soon take over. Pots are the answer. Continuous picking just encourages the plant to grow more profusely.

IMG_3074

Attempting Scotch flavoured toms

This year I also tried my hand at cherry tomatoes again. A kind nurseryman at the local Summerhill Nursery gave me a tiny seedling from his private stock and I promised to name it after him. “Michael” is now taller than me and has abundant flowers and a few teeny green tomatoes. It suffered earlier in the year in a furious thunderstorm and broke off halfway up. I jokingly stuck the snapped off branch into an empty Scotch bottle and Instagrammed that I was going to attempt to propagate Scotch flavoured toms. Now the plant seems to have renewed vigour and is competing for space with the grape vine on the fence. As soon as I have edible offspring, I will devote myself to some experiments.

For now, mint preoccupies me. I’m sure you want to know that the eastern Mediterranean native is named for the nymph Minthe, whom the jealous Persephone turned into a plant after she had an affair with Pluto, god of the underworld. Perhaps because of this, mint is very popular in Balkan and Middle Eastern cooking, such as dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), tabbouleh (bulgar salad) and the ubiquitous hot mint tea. In Britain (I hardly dare mention this in an almost vegetarian household) mint sauce accompanies roast lamb. Fresh mint leaves are usually sliced into a chiffonade, just a fancy French word for shredding veggies and herbs.

In the Americas we enjoy mint in delicious cooling drinks such as the Southern favourite mint julep and the Cuban mojito. I think I’ll make one of the latter from my own recipe while I cook!

The first fresh peas come local farms in April and May, but several chefs have told me they prefer the consistency of frozen peas, including Andrew Carter who was a guest on the first season of Market to Table, because they are usually flash frozen at the site of picking and hence retain their full flavour, plus they’re are available year round. Zucchini (or courgettes, if you prefer) are available locally from June to October, but with imports can also be found year-round. Enjoy these two tasty soups.

MINTY CHILLED PEA SOUP (Vegan)

Shopping list

  • Minty chilled pea soup3 TBSP EVOO
  • 2 shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, unsalted
  • 5 cups / 750 g shelled fresh peas or frozen peas
  • 1 cup chiffonade of fresh mint leaves (shredded)
  • Salt and pepper

Garnish

  • EVOO
  • Perfect mint leaves or tips

 Preparation and cooking

  1. Heat the EVOO in a heavy pot. Add chopped shallots and sauté until softened, being careful not to brown. Add broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Add peas, reduce the heat and simmer gently, until the peas are tender, about 5 mins for fresh peas. Bring the broth back to the boil and then simmer for 2 mins for frozen peas.
  2. Remove from the stove, add the mint leaves, which will blanch in the hot liquid, and allow the mixture to cool (for safety).
  3. In a blender, purée the soup, in stages if necessary. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper generously. Pour the soup into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs. Even better if you leave it overnight. Check for seasoning again before serving.
  4. To serve, ladle into cups or bowls, drizzle on a circle of EVOO, and garnish with a perfect fresh mint leaf, or delicate mint tips.

Serves 4

ZUCCHINI & MINT SOUP

Shopping listZ SOUP 1

  • 3 TBSP EVOO
  • 2 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4 zucchini, washed, topped and tailed but not peeled, sliced thinly (use a mandolin)
  • 3 cups / 700 ml vegetable stock, unsalted
  • 2/3rd cup / 150 ml Balkan style yoghurt, plain
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves (washed and destemmed)
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper

Garnish

  • More Balkan style yoghurt, 1 dollop for each serving
  • Perfect mint leaves or tips
  • Baguette croutons

Preparation and cooking

  1. Heat the EVOO in a heavy pot. Add chopped shallots and sauté until softened, being careful not to brown. Add garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes, again ensuring they don’t brown. Lower the heat and add zucchini, cooking gently until the slices soften.
  2. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil for 5 mins. Set aside to cool a little (for safety).
  3. In a blender, purée the soup, in stages if necessary. Add mint leaves and blend some more. Then blend in the yoghurt until well mixed. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
  4. Return to the cooking pot until ready to serve, or chill overnight. If the soup seems a little thin, simmer to thicken. If it seems a little thick, add more stock. At the last minute bring the soup back to serving temperature.
  5. To serve, garnish with a dollop of yoghurt, a couple of croutons and top with a fresh mint leaf or delicate mint tip.

Serves 4

MINT 2

Featured image: Mint takes over the garden if left unchecked

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This is Nigel’s 283rd blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. Here is the link to Market to Table: The Cookbooka bargain at $11.50. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, even better priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

And please check out my new cooking video. Episode 1 of a planned occasional series is available on the blog and YouTube.

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