Just hearing the words "fresh mint" on a summer day makes me conjure up the Southern symbol of hospitality - a lengthy sprig of green mint in frosty tumblers or icy silver cups of mint juleps.
I read recently it's estimated that thousands of gallons of mint julep were consumed this year at Churchill Downs. Whoa!
But that wasn't the case at the Kentucky Derby party I attended.
Instead, partygoers were reaching for more standard drinks like wine.
Which is how I came home with a forest of fresh mint.
Years ago, as the result of a serious gardening error I really should have known better than to have made, I found myself with about 15-square-feet of flourishing mint. I learned if you give most mint plants an inch of garden space, they'll take a mile.
So I found myself once again challenged with what to do with a mound of mint.
Reputed to be the most widely used of all aromatic herbs, fresh mint can quench a thirst, perk up a dull salad and refresh the senses.
What other herb flavors toothpicks, pizza dough, meatballs and mouthwash, ice cream and Cuban cocktails?
Some cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs and omelets for a change of pace or to egg substitutes to enhance the flavor. Be sure to add the mint at the end of cooking them, because too much heat turns mint bitter.
Mint is commonly used with peas, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beans and corn to add a blast of flavor. And there are a lots of drinks and desserts are imporoved by throwing in some mint.
The Romans introduced mint sauce - mint, sugar and vinegar - as an accompaniment for meat, not so much because it enhanced its flavor but because a little mint sauce could hide the fact that the main dish wasn't quite as fresh as it might be.
To store fresh mint I wrap it in a damp paper towel, making sure it's not soaking wet, and then place it in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate. It lasts upwards of two weeks.
I use mint in tabbouleh, a refreshing Mediterranean salad made of cracked wheat that also contains parsley, tomatoes and lemon. I also use chopped mint as a key ingredient in my summer beet salad.
Most people associate mint with sweets. A mint is a candy, after all. A fond memory of my Grandpa Carl is his pocket full of starlight mints, doled out to grandkids as rewards for good behavior.
So for your good behavior, I'm sharing with you my recipe for caramelized corn with lots of - you guessed it - fresh mint. It's a fantastic, simple recipe with the unexpected flavor of bright, clean, cooling mint.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
CARAMELIZED CORN WITH FRESH MINT
4 to 5 cups fresh corn kernels, white or yellow
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Salt In a wide skillet, melt half the butter over high heat. Add half the corn and cook, stirring often, until golden and browned (kernels may begin to pop), about 10 minutes. Stir in half the mint and sprinkle with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl. Repeat with the remaining corn, butter, mint and salt. Makes 10 to 12 servings.