When I was a kid, the thrill of having lamb chops for dinner wasn’t the lamb chops, but the shimmering green mint jelly that came with them. The 5-year-old me just couldn’t resist the mouthwash hue and artificially cool flavor. Today I still love mint sauce (for more than just lamb), but my tastes run toward refreshing herbal mint, be it in an Indian-inspired chutney with cilantro, a classic English sauce, a dipping sauce with lime, or even combined with capers in an unusual pesto.
INDIAN-INSPIRED MINT CHUTNEY
Makes about 1 cup
In Indian restaurants, this type of chutney is often served with fried appetizers such as samosas and pakoras. Either straight up or mixed with about 2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt, it goes with all manner of grilled vegetables (particularly zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant) and grilled lamb, chicken, or salmon, and can even be stirred into cooked rice.
⅓cup finely chopped onion
2 serrano chilies, seeded if desired, chopped
1½ tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
2½ cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons neutral oil
In a small bowl cover the onion with cold water and set aside to soak. After 10 minutes drain, blot dry, and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, process the chilies, ginger, sugar, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon salt until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. Add the mint, cilantro, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water, and process until the herbs are broken down and finely chopped, about 30 seconds, stopping to scrape down the work bowl as needed. With the feed tube open and the motor running, slowly add the oil, processing until the mixture is pasty, about 30 seconds longer.
Scrape the mixture into a bowl, stir in the onion, and serve (can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days).
CLASSIC ENGLISH-STYLE FRESH MINT SAUCE
Makes about ¾ cup
This type of mint sauce is traditionally served with roasted lamb, though I serve it with grilled lamb, too. Use a good-quality white wine vinegar — it will make a difference. And a food processor will make quick work of finely chopping all that mint.
1¾ cups white wine vinegar
½ cup sugar
1½ cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and sugar to a strong simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer the mixture until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup, about 16 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. Off heat, set the pan aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the chopped mint; add the rest of the mint and a pinch of salt to the vinegar mixture, stir to blend, and set aside to infuse for about 10 minutes. Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and strain the mixture (you should have about ¾ cup). Stir in the reserved 3 tablespoons mint and serve (can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days).
SOUTHEAST ASIAN-STYLE LIME-MINT DIPPING SAUCE
Makes about 2/3 cup
Great with fresh or fried spring rolls, as well as grilled shrimp, scallops, lobster, or chicken.
¼ cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ serrano chili, seeded if desired, and finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
1½ tablespoons light brown sugar
⅓ cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped
In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk all the ingredients to combine and dissolve the sugar fully, and serve (can be covered and refrigerated for 1 day).
Makes 1 generous cup
This combination of mint and capers is surprisingly subtle and nicely balanced. Use this as a topping for a fresh tomato salad or on grilled chicken, fish, or vegetables, rather than on pasta. You can stir in some extra-virgin olive oil to loosen the sauce if you wish. This recipe is adapted from The Philosopher’s Kitchen, by Francine Segan.
⅓cup pine nuts, lightly toasted and cooled
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 shallots, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2½ cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
In a food processor, process the pine nuts, capers, shallots, mint, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste until finely ground, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. With the feed tube open and the motor running, slowly add the oil, processing until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 30 seconds. Taste the pesto and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve at once (can be covered with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface of the pesto, and refrigerated for up to 2 days).
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