Friday, January 16, 2009

Minty trims

Mint is one of those herbs that's lovely just to be around, rather like basil and rosemary. Brush past any of these three fragrant herbs and their delicious scents fill the air with thoughts of chopping boards, bubbling pots and happy handfuls of flavour. However, mint is a special case – it's a potential garden monster, a takeover merchant to rival the most rampant weeds. And so, like a wild beast, it's kept as a prisoner in a pot to tame its wandering urges and uncivilised bullying. Inevitably, being pot-bound, it becomes unkempt and needs an occasional haircut and a shave, a change of clothes and a scrub down. I do this to my pots of mint about three or four times a year. Here's how the most recent makeover turned out...

Here's the pot this morning, January 16, green and lovely and lush after its recent renovation, which started on December 21. This is common mint, my favourite, although with so many mint flavours to choose from I sometimes think I should try all the others. But those wild and crazy thoughts soon dissipate, and I mostly stick with my mate, the commoner.

Back on the morning on December 21, the pot of common mint was rapidly becoming scrappy. Leaves were tatty, probably munched by a fellow mint-loving creature. Grown in a semi-shaded spot, it always becomes a bit leggy, too. Once it starts to look like this it's all downhill, so instead of letting it get worse, it's haircut time.

I don't bother with delicate niceties such as using secateurs for the basic cutback. Hedge shears do the job swiftly, cutting all the stems back to the pot rim.

After the cutback and a final going over with my secateurs, there's nothing much left. Just a mass of bare stems an inch or so high. At this stage all it needs is a good liquid feed of something with loads of nitrogen in it. I use a popular Aussie product called Nitrosol, which is marketed as 'liquid blood & bone' and it makes anything leafy grow beautifully.

Ten days later – New Year's Day – and the first encouraging signs of new growth appear.

A second liquid feed keeps things bubbling along, too.

One week later, January 8, and we've had a green eruption. Lush growth everywhere. It always happens in a rush like this, and after all these years it's still exciting to see such vigour!

When a plant grows this well, it's easy to appreciate why it needs taming in a pot.

This is the pot this morning, January 16. It won't look like this in a short while, as I plan to harvest some of the mint to make a fresh mint chutney to go with some curries I plan to cook.

This regular cutting of herbs for cooking is one of the best ways to keep plants compact and lush. Sometimes I just cut back my herbs not because I plan to use them that night, but simply to keep them compact and healthy. This 'simulated harvest' is a great tip for herb gardens. Whether you plan to use herbs or not in the kitchen, treat all plants as if you use them constantly and your herb garden will be better for it.

Fresh Mint Chutney (Podina Chatni)
To finish off this posting I might as well include this recipe, which is from the wonderful 'Complete Asian Cookbook' by Charmaine Solomon.

1 cup firmly packed mint leaves
6 spring onions, cut into short lengths
2 fresh green chillies, deseeded and stalks removed
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Put everything in an electric blender and blend to a smooth paste.

If you don't have a blender, finely chop the onions, chillies, mint and garlic then pound them together in a mortar and pestle in batches, then combine the pounded ingredients with the salt, sugar, spices, juice and water.

Once made, cover and chill until serving time. Serve as a side dish with curries and rice.

Substitutes: you can substitute fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves for the mint, to make fresh coriander chutney, which is also lovely. For the coriander chutney, Charmaine Solomon suggests adding a teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger as well.


Chandramouli S said...

You've done a great job with those mints! I wish I could grow them too.

Liss said...

Thanks Jamie - a timely reminder - my mint is indeed leggy - I'm going to go give it a good haircut now! :)