Food

Spice route – red & green

Spice route – red & green

Mint, or mentha, is something you either love or hate. Mellissa Bushby suspects that because so many medicinal products are manufactured with the aroma or use thereof, it may become a bit of an unpleasant association for certain people.

Having said that, there are just as many who enjoy its fresh flavour sensation. Fortunately for those, there are hundreds of species of mint, such as peppermint, spearmint, lavender mint, chocolate mint, pennyroyal, catmint, pineapple mint and ginger mint.
Its usage goes back many centuries, and there are numerous mentions of it in ancient mythology. Biblical references suggest the value of mint was so high that along with anise and cumin it was used as a tithe by the Pharisees. The Latin metha and the ancient Greek minthe are both associated with change, and accordingly, Pluto’s wife Proserpine transformed her hated rival into a mint plant. The earliest known use of mint in toothpaste comes from the 14th century, when it was used as a teeth whitener.

Mint has plenty of health benefits. It is excellent when used as a digestive aid, a practice which goes back to the time of Thomas Culpepper in the 15th century. It relieves nausea, tiredness, depression and headaches. It is also used in the treatment of memory loss, asthma and skin problems, numerous mouth ailments, including, obviously, bad breath, which is why the market is full of minty chewing gum, toothpaste, breath fresheners and sweets. Mint is also delicious when used for culinary purposes. Think of mint sauce, fresh pea soup, tzatziki, mint pesto and chocolate mint ice cream. Not to mention much-loved cocktails, such as mojitos and mint juleps, and of course mint tea.

This herb is often associated with Christmas, although the reason seems to be lost in the mists of time. The rumour is that in 1670, a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral wanted to give the children in the nativity play something to keep them occupied, and requested that in line with the theme, shepherd’s crook-shaped sweets be prepared for them. It could also be because the cooling effect of mint is so intricately entwined with “a white Christmas”, something that the Lowveld, fortunately, foregoes with its balmy warm weather and glorious summer sunshine.
If one side of the Christmas coin is minty green, then the other must surely be raspberry red. Raspberries are just coming into season in December in South Africa, and are definitely worth adding to your Christmas festivities. Soft, sweet, little orbs, raspberries can be orange, white, black or yellow, but are most commonly red. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that these berries are a whole lot of small fruits that have grown together, each with its own seed.

It is commonly thought that they originated in Asia, and by the fourth century BC the Romans were growing them, after which they spread throughout Europe. They came to the New World via the British, who brought them to the Americas when they settled there. Interestingly, settlers found that black raspberries were already common to the eastern seaboard.

In ancient Greek mythology, all raspberries were white until the nymph Ida accidentally pricked her finger on a thorn when collecting them, causing her finger to bleed onto the fruit, turning it red.
To use your raspberries, rinse them in cold water and drain well.
They can be eaten as is, pureed in a food processor, freeze-dried, turned into jam or a jus, or frozen. Raspberries freeze very well, but once they thaw they turn to mush, so are best cooked or blended for a sauce or smoothie.

Raspberry & mint chocolate macarons

For the macarons
• 3 egg whites
• ¼ cup caster sugar
• Pink food colouring
• 1¼ cups icing sugar, sifted
• 1 cup ground almonds
• 1 tbs raspberry puree.
For the filling
• ¼ cup pouring cream
• 150g quality white chocolate
• A few drops of mint essence.

Method

Preheat oven to 150°C.

Line baking trays with baking or parchment paper.

Beat egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form, then gradually add sugar and a few drops of food colouring.

Beat until the sugar is dissolved.

Fold in the icing sugar, ground almonds and puree then separate into two batches.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a 1cm plain tip.

Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets in 4cm circles, leaving 2cm between each.

Firmly tap the sheet on the counter a few times to allow the macarons to settle and release any trapped air bubbles.

Bake for 20 to 24 minutes and allow to cool a little before sandwiching.

Meanwhile, add the cream to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth and melted.

Stir in the mint essence then refrigerate until a spreadable consistency is achieved.

Sandwich the cooled macarons with the chocolate filling and serve with a scattering of mint leaves.

Enjoy with a Ginger Rogers mint and ginger cocktail, or after-dinner coffee.

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