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June 2007

Trot around the globe and you will encounter mint in various disguises.

In Italy, relish mint gelato;in England, dine on lamb and mint jelly;in the Alps sip minty liqueurs;in Morocco slurp mint tea;in Greece, nibble on dolmades;in Lebanon, enjoy mint-flavored tabouleh;in Vietnam savor goi cuon;in India feast on biryani;in Thailand appreciate nam sod;and the list goes on ?

Besides food, let us not forget that mint flavors our toothpaste, breath fresheners,cough drop, and chewing gum to give that cool, refreshing feeling.

Mint has a place of prominence in every cuisine around the world.

A reason for mint's popularity is that it grows and spreads easily. If you plant mint in your garden, beware, as its underground rhizomes will grow in, out, and around all garden plants. The trick is to continuously pull it out in the wet months if it becomes invasive.

My aunt did not control the mint in her kitchen garden for five years, and now has much more than she can ever use in her cooking.She has found a unique use of mint. She makes a puree of mint leaves with water and applies it as a facemask every week. She asserts that mint works wonders for her skin!

A somewhat tall plant, mint (Mentha sp.) has an intense aroma and intricate, pale purple flowers. Although indigenous to Europe and the Mediterranean, about 600 varieties of mint are cultivated throughout the world today.The genus name Mentha is derived from Roman mythology. Minthe was a lovely young nymph who caught the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the underworld. When Pluto's wife Persephone found out about his love for the beautiful nymph, she was enraged. She changed Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn't reverse Persephone's curse, but he did soften the spell somewhat by making the smell that Minthe gave off all the sweeter when she was tread upon.

If you have more mint than you can consume, use it as a room freshener. In India they hang fresh bunches of mint in doorways and open windows, allowing the breeze to carry the scent throughout the house. The aroma of mint is said to symbolize hospitality so this would be especially nice if you were expecting company. This is also a good herb for keeping ants away from doors and combating mice and fleas. Mint adds a clean and refreshing flavor to soups, salads, sauces, meats, fish, poultry, stews, and chocolate

dishes. Spearmint and peppermint are the most common varieties used in cooking. Peppermint is more often used for candies and teas while spearmint complements savory dishes like lamb, peas, and other vegetables as well as fruits and chocolate. The fresh leaves make an attractive garnish for just about any dish. Mint has a significant place in Indian cuisine. It is used in chutney; lamb, fish, and chicken dishes; and the all-popular biryani.

I love to experiment with mint. Here are my favorite creations.

Minty Tofu Kabab

Freezing tofu alters its texture. It becomes dense and absorbs more flavors. Freezing removes some of its liquid content, giving it a firmer, meaty consistency. Freezing is a wonderful technique that can be applied only to

firm tofu. Silken tofu should not be frozen.

� cup mint leaves

3-4 green chilies

� cup sesame seeds

� cup peanuts

� cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon salt (or as per taste)

� teaspoon sugar

1 red bell pepper (chopped into one-inch


10-12 white pearl onions

10-12 cherry tomatoes

1 packet tofu, frozen and then thawed

1 tablespoon oil

In a blender, add mint, chilies, sesame

seeds, peanuts, yogurt, salt, and sugar. Make

a puree. Keep aside.

Thaw the frozen tofu and squeeze out as

much water as possible. Chop into one-inch

cubes. Place the cubes in a big bowl and add

the mint puree. Marinate for at least two

hours. (For more intense flavor, marinate


Heat a frying pan and place the marinated

tofu cubes in it in a single layer. Add a few

drops of oil around each cube, but do not

disturb them. With a spatula, apply pressure

on each cube to squeeze out the moisture. Let

them cook on each side till golden brown and

flip the cubes.

Remove from heat and place these tofu

cubes on a skewer with tomatoes, onions,

and bell pepper.

Serve on a bed of white rice.

Hema's Hints: For variation you may replace

paneer or chicken cubes for tofu in this


Couscous Salad

Couscous is a coarsely ground semolina

pasta. The grain is a staple in many North

African countries. Over the last decade, it has

cropped up on American menus and dinner

tables. Packaged parboiled couscous is now

available in many grocery stores. Couscous

can be prepared in just five minutes. Simply

follow the instructions on the package for

foolproof, fluffy couscous every time. As a

rule, 1/3 cup of dry couscous will yield one

cup of cooked couscous. I recommend using

whole wheat couscous to boost your intake of

fiber. For variation, alter any ingredient except

mint. It is the key ingredient in this recipe.

2 cups cooked whole wheat couscous

1 cup chopped cucumber

1 cup chopped tomatoes (remove pulp

and seeds)

� cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

� cup chopped red onion

� cup roasted almonds, chopped

2-3 green chilies, minced (optional)

� cup fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

� teaspoon sugar

salt as per taste

Mix the couscous, cucumber, tomatoes,

pomegranate seeds, onion, almonds, chilies,

and mint in a large bowl. Whisk together

lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, and salt. Pour

over the couscous salad and toss. Cover and

refrigerate for at least two hours.

Hema's Hints: This is an excellent salad to

take to work or picnics, but always serve it


Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and

host of a television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.


Text and Photo by HEMA ALUR-KUNDARGI

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