As Southerners, we’re used to this summer heat. Stifling as it may be, it means many of my favorite things: juicy peaches, ripe watermelon, drippy ice cream cones – and one thing I try and tackle each year – using up all this mint. If you’re like me, you have it growing out of your ears. I’ve often wondered, “What can I possibly do with all of this mint, besides garnish a pretty dessert?”
What I planted three summers ago returns each year in full force, seemingly stronger each time. Though it’s most associated with sweeter items, it’s a very versatile herb and goes well in savory dishes. It adds Mediterranean flair to a quinoa salad with shrimp, corn and mangoes. It’s a fresh addition to pasta with lemon, ricotta and peas. Keep it simple and toss it with some watermelon, feta and a sprinkle of cayenne.
Then it dawned on me: This is prime patio-cocktail sipping time. Mint simple syrup is the answer to everything. Add it to some fresh mixers and a variety of liquors, and you have yourself a plethora of ways to use up all that mint.
A few combinations I found to be most successful:
Watermelon & Lime Refresher
For a riff on that watermelon and mint salad, muddle some ripe watermelon chunks with a lime wedge, add 1 shot of gin and about 1 tablespoon of mint simple syrup. Top it off with some watermelon juice. This is heaven, and my signature drink for the summer. (For the kidlets to enjoy, omit the gin!)
Ever since my uncle introduced me to the idea of adding Cointreau (or any orange liqueur) to margaritas, I’ve never gone without. Combine 1 tablespoon of mint simple syrup and 1 shot of silver tequila, top with pineapple juice and add a splash of Cointreau. This is incredibly tasty and dangerously easy to drink.
A Classic: Mint Julep
I asked the employee at the ABC store to suggest a Bourbon that I could “spruce up” with some ingredients. “I’m making mint juleps, you see,” I said, and he steered me in the direction of Evan Williams. It’s not one you’d necessarily want to drink straight, but since it’s the main ingredient in a Mint Julep, it needs to be of decent quality. Fill a cup with crushed ice and add about 2 tablespoons of mint simple syrup. Top with two healthy shots of Mr. Williams and garnish with fresh mint, of course.
Variation on Another Classic: Mojito
Earlier this summer when my mom and I went to Memphis, we had a coconut mojito that was as rockin’ as the city itself. Muddle half of a lime with 2 tablespoons mint simple syrup and a few leaves of fresh mint. Add 1 shot of coconut rum and top with soda water. You’ll want to sip on this sucker all day long.
Mint Simple Syrup (recipe adapted from Chow.com)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup mint leaves
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the syrup through a sieve and discard the solids. Store syrup in the refrigerator.
Amanda Clark is an arts administrator by day and a blogger by night. She lives in Greensboro, NC, and blogs about restaurants and movies. Read more of her work at www.cuisineandscreen.com.