The kickoff to summer may be weeks away, but it is time to get outside and get your grill on. Banish the winter blues with some time spent in the great outdoors, and enjoy delicious grilled meals and these brightly flavored sauces featuring one of spring's springiest herbs--mint!
Mint is one of the largest families of herbs. It is astounding that so many of our most popular and valuable herbs--including what I would consider the majority of the finest culinary herbs--are in the mint family. They include basil, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, sweet marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, summer savory, anise hyssop, and germander.
It is also amazing to note how many different cultures and cuisines use mint: Indian, Spanish, Italian, and Middle Eastern use members of the mint family to brighten and fresh flavors.
Using fresh herbs is a perfect way to transition from winter to spring. The freshness of herbs mixed into a brightly flavored sauce can take an everyday meal into a new level. I like to fire up the grill and cook veggies, chicken, or fish. Then, during the last few minutes of grilling, I add one of these sauces.
Roasted Red Pepper Harissa
I almost don't want to call this sauce "harissa." Many people think of harissa as a fiery hot condiment. This sauce has a complicated origin from islands. The Spice Trail holds the story of many cuisines and many people's histories. Harissa is an important condiment and sauce for many cuisines, with each country adding their own twists.
Comparing the sauce to ketchup or hot sauce is not exactly correct.Complex flavors from caraway, roasted peppers, citrus juices, and fresh herbs craft a sauce that is deeply flavored and versatile. I don't like very hot flavors and have toned down the sauce to contain just a gentle poke of heat. Add more jalapenos or substitute serranos if you like it fiery.
Grilled chicken, fish, beef, and veggies get a lift from tart limes and herby mint. Bright flavors just make me smile and I love the complex flavors of toasty spices combined with mint and cilantro. This is my favorite sauce--quick to whirr up in a blender and it's a perfect balance of smoky herb flavors, and earthy spices.
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise clusters
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 red peppers, roasted and peeled (fresh or jarred)
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
4 cloves garlic
1-2 jalapenos, seeded (I use 2 and it is delicious)
½ cup cilantro
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1. Roast cumin, fennel, coriander, and caraway seeds in a dry pan until they have darkened a bit and are fragrant (about 3 minutes). Add cinnamon and star anise and turn heat off the pan.
2. Transfer seeds to a food processor or spice grinder and process until a powder.
3. In a blender, add ground seeds, lime zest, and juice, roasted red peppers, mint, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Process until a sauce consistency.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Freeze leftover sauce for up to 2 months.
Smoky, charred veggies just seem right, now, as the sun starts to warm up. I top my veggies with smoky and tart Muhummara. Roasted red peppers and a generous glug of lip-smacking pomegranate molasses make this sauce vibrant. I put some spring in my sauce with a good handful of fresh mint. I have been in love with this sauce since I wrote about it in my first book,
Jewish Cooking for All Seasons
(John Wiley and Sons). This schmear has the perfect smack of savory, sweet, and sour flavors all gathered in a gorgeous red dollop.
8 ounces roasted red peppers, drained
⅓ cup walnuts, toasted, chopped finely, or toasted pumpkin seeds/pepitas
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup panko breadcrumbs, toasted to a light golden brown
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons cumin
Big pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Garnish: chopped mint, pomegranate seeds, drizzle of pomegranate molasses
- In a food processor, purée red peppers until smooth. Add walnuts, garlic, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Process until smooth with some chunks remaining, wiping down bowl as needed. Drizzle in oil, then season to taste with salt.
Laura Frankel is a noted kosher chef, a cookbook author, and Culinary Director for a media company. Currently, she serves as Director of Catering at Circle of Life catering at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El.