There can’t be many simple ingredients that can rival fresh mint for versatility and strength. Firstly it’s super easy to grow and has a heavenly aroma, but more importantly, it combines brilliantly well with so many sweet and savoury flavours from all over the world, and adds a breath of fresh air to untold recipes from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India, where it suddenly becomes soothing and slightly exotic. There’s probably no other ingredient that brings with it such freshness like fresh mint and its superhero powers invigorates, excites and stimulates the appetite every time. Mint lovers rejoice…the possibilities are truly endless!
Fresh mint goes well with avocado, melon, peas, mango and aubergines, especially when they are spiced and char grilled until tender. I love mint with middle-eastern style lamb meatballs and chopped and folded into grain salads, such as tabbouleh and couscous. It is without doubt one of my favourite summer ingredients and, although fresh mint can be a little overpowering for some delicate flavours, you can soften mint's punch by mixing it with other herbs such as coriander and basil and the blend can be an intoxicating addition to a spicy Moroccan tagine or a rice Vietnamese pho. One of my favourite combinations is cucumber and fresh mint. Once described as “cooler than a couple of contract killers”, all you have to do is add some natural yoghurt, also known for its cooling qualities, and you have a natural form of gastronomic air-conditioning. This simple combination is found all over from Greece, where it is called “Tzatziki”, “Cacik” in Turkey, “Talatouri” in Cyprus all the way down to India where it is known as “Raita”.
Grilled Tandoori Chicken Salad with minted Cucumber raita
This week’s recipe is a deliciously simple Tandoori chicken salad. You could buy a ready-made tandoori paste for convenience, but making your own is really satisfying and it fills your whole kitchen with some wonderfully tempting aromas.
Ingredients Serves 4
2 chicken breasts cut into long strips
2tbsp chopped coriander
80g natural Greek yoghurt
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
½ red onion, peeled & sliced
20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 bunches of rocket leaves
2tbsp olive oil
Cucumber and mint raita
300g natural Greek yoghurt
1 cucumber (grated & lightly squeezed)
150g fresh mint leaves
1 tsp cumin
1⁄2 tsp chilli powder
1⁄2 tsp ground black pepper
1⁄2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp turmeric
½ tsp cinnamon
2 cloves garlic
2 red chillies, deseeded
100g onion, chopped
15g ginger, peeled
Juice of one lime
2tbsp tomato paste
1tbsp tamarind puree (optional)
1-2 tbsp water
Sea salt to taste
Dry roast all the spices in a pan over a low flame, until they begin to release their aroma and essential oils. Place them a food processor and grind all the spices to a powder.
Add the garlic, chillies, ginger, onion, limejuice, tamarind and tomato puree, then blend to a form a paste adding a little cold water if necessary. Season with sea salt. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3-4 weeks.
Marinate the chicken strips with 2 tablespoons of tandoori paste, the chopped coriander and 80g of Greek yoghurt for at least 30 minutes. (For a more intense flavour, they can be left overnight in the refrigerator).
For the raita, mix all the ingredients together and chill in the refrigerator.
Heat a griddle pan over a high heat, brush with olive oil and cook the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until nicely glazed and cooked through.
To serve, dress the rocket, avocado, tomatoes & red onion with a little olive oil and sea salt. Divide between 4 plates. Add the tandoori chicken pieces and serve with minted cucumber raita.
Moussaka with minted pea puree
Aubergines also marry perfectly with lamb in the classic Greek dish, Moussaka. The name is actually Arabic, and it's known, in various forms, from Egypt to Romania. A good moussaka is a joy to behold with cinnamon spiced lamb mingling with the aubergines and a delicious creamy, béchamel sauce. In my recipe I’m serving it with a minted pea puree and green salad…what more do you need?
Ingredients Serves 6
600g minced shoulder of lamb
75 ml olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cumin
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
150 ml white wine
2 medium aubergines cut into 1 cm slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the chopped onions without colour. Add the minced lamb mixture and fry over high heat for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the white wine, chopped tomatoes and oregano as well as the tomato paste. Simmer gently for 20 - 30 minutes while preparing the rest.
For the cheese sauce
500 ml milk
Fresh parsley stalks
1 bay leaf, torn into small pieces
6 whole black peppercorns
½ small onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves
40 g butter
30 g plain flour
75 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat milk, onion pierced with the cloves, bay leaf, parsley stalks, and peppercorns until boiling. Remove from heat and leave to seep for 20 minutes before straining. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for five minutes. When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk mixture. Stir until smooth, and slowly add more milk while constantly stirring. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add half the cheese to the milk mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pass through a fine sieve.
Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F/ Gas 6.
Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat and fry the aubergine slices until tender and lightly coloured on each side. Layer the base of a shallow ovenproof dish with the half of the sliced aubergines and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the aubergines with the lamb mixture, and then cover the lamb mixture with the remaining aubergines. Pour in cheese sauce and sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese over top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the top is golden-brown and bubbly. Serve with minted pea puree and a green salad.
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