Hades, god of the Underworld.
What in Hades does Hades have to do with gardening or cooking?
It’s dark in the Underworld – not easy to garden with no sunlight at all. Cooking in the Underworld – probably a lot of barbecue, but that’s it.
Well, legend has it that Hades had a girlfriend, a nymph named Minthe. Hades loved her dearly. Unfortunately for Minthe, Hades’ wife Persephone, did not.
A Woman Scorned
Persephone became so jealous of Minthe that she turned her into a ground-hugging plant, where she would be trampled on for eternity. Another version of the legend is that while Hades could not turn Minthe back into a nymph, he was able to give her the ability to sweeten the air when she was crushed under foot. Lucky for us Persephone was….well, a bitch…because she gave us what we have come to know as the wonderfully aromatic mint plant.
Best Friends Forever
Mint has been one of our culinary and medicinal best friends for a very, very long time. Peppermint (believed to be a natural hybridizing of spearmint and water mint) is thought to have originated in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. In the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical text dating to 1550 BCE, mint is listed as an aid to sooth flatulence, digestion, stop vomiting, and used as a breath freshener.
As noted in A Modern Herbal, Vol. 2, Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist (circa 23 – 79 CE), wrote that peppermint was used by the Romans to adorn themselves and their tables at feasts, and was used to flavor both wine and sauces. Peppermint was eventually introduced to Europe where it enjoyed equal popularity. It is mentioned as an herbal remedy in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeias as early as 1240 CE . During the Middle Ages, monks were known to use peppermint as an excellent polisher of teeth and during the same period, cheese makers learned that the strong smell of mint would keep vermin out of rooms were food was stored.
When European settlers came to America, they brought with them their mint which, in time, naturally hybridized with our own native mints. Now, America supplies roughly one half of the world’s mint supply with most of it coming from Washington state.
One of my favorite uses for mint is in a sauce for grilled lamb.
Rack of lamb is expensive so we usually have it when my husband and I have a “date” night. Dinner al fresco with a perfect medium-rare lamb chop served with balsamic-mint sauce, a crisp salad and garlic bread accompanied by a beautiful glass of pinot noir is to absolutely die for. Why go out for date night when you can recreate a restaurant-style dinner on your own and enjoy it while looking at your own beautiful garden?
Brush the lamb with a mixture of olive oil, chopped parsley and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and let it sit in the frig for several hours. It’s that simple.
Take the rack out of the frig about a half hour before grilling. Once the grill is ready, place the rack on the hotter portion to get some nice char. You might also want to wrap the little bones in foil as they tend to burn quickly. Not a necessity, but you might want to try it if you’re worried about aesthetics.
Notice how in the photo, the rack is right over the hot coals. This will give it that nice char I mentioned earlier. After char is achieved, move the rack to a cooler portion of the barbecue, in my case, the center between the two inserts containing the charcoal.
Cover the grill and cook with indirect heat until you reach your desired temp. I like medium-rare so that’s doubt 20 minutes.
While the lamb is cooking, prepare the mint sauce. I’m not talking about the store-bought mint jelly found on unfortunate pieces of lamb at many Easter dinners! This sauce only has four ingredients and one of them may come out of your own garden – fresh mint.
Purchasing fresh herbs at the store can get expensive. It’s not that the little bunch of herb is going to break the bank. It’s the fact that, for example, you purchase mint to make a sauce for which you only need a small portion and the rest of the bunch goes back into the frig. And there is sits, forgotten, until you finally notice it has rotted into a wet, slimy mass and needs to be thrown away.
The solution for this waste? Grow your own! Mint is a prolific plant and may become invasive if you let it run amok. For this reason, and the fact that snails absolutely love mint and I don’t want to open up the Mint Buffet for them every night, I grow my mint in a hanging basket. It’s a win-win all the way around. I have mint whenever I need it. I have mint where I need it (not spreading over the entire yard). And the snails don’t have it.
My mint is in a wire basket lined with sphagnum moss and hangs under a huge Chinese Elm in the backyard. It gets bright but indirect sunlight and must be watered frequently (I know – my bad about the water usage but I gotta have my mint). Every 4 months I give it a shot of food.
A Marriage Made in…?
Mint and lamb were made for each other. Now whether this marriage was made in heaven or in the underworld with our friends Hades, Persephone, and Minthe is for you to decide.
Try this Minthe Sauce recipe and let me know what you think!
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Fresh mint, chopped
Heat the vinegars in a small bowl in the microwave, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the chopped mint and let it sit for about 20 minutes.