Mint comes in many shapes and sizes. On my kitchen balcony grows a chocolate mint and an unspectacular variety which was given to me as a cutting and tastes great in teas and cooked dishes. Mint is well loved by many warmer cultures for its ability to promote sweating and thus cool the body in hot weather. It eases many digestive disorders such as flatulence, colic and nausea. Mint can reduce teething pain in children, is disliked by rats and the British know that it makes a great accompaniment to lamb dishes, when served as mint sauce or jelly.
This recipe combines mint and lamb directly. It is inspired by the French Elle a table magazine (number 69, spring 2010). It is cheap to make, easy to make and tastes great.
A note about pine nuts…
Increase or decrease the quantity of pine nuts to suit your taste and wallet. I implore you not to buy cheap pine nuts, especially those from China. I buy the best quality Italian pine nuts that I can find from a trusted source. For some reason many cheaper (organic and non organic) pine nuts can cause adverse reactions and at best can remove your sense of taste for a week or so. If you can’t find good pine nuts then you could use more almond butter. Almond butter is available from many health food shops. If you can’t find that, use ground almonds!
You can also add a little chili, curry or cayenne pepper during cooking, to make this dish spicier, if desired. This is a child friendly version.
500g quality minced lamb
1 large onion
Small – good handful best quality pine nuts
Tablespoon of ground almond butter
Good handful of fresh mint
400g can of chopped tomatoes
Tablespoon tomato puree
1 vegetable stock cube or teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the onion.
- Wash the mint and remove any woody parts.
- Finely chop the onion.
- Reserve about 10 mint leaves before finely chopping the rest and adding it to the onion.
- If serving to children, very finely chop or grind the pine nuts. Combine with the onion and mint.
- Combine the almond butter with the onion and mint.
- Add the minced lamb, mix well to thoroughly combine the flavours.
(steps 3-7 are very simply achieved with a food processor)
- Hand shape the meatball mixture into fairly small balls. I use about a heaped desert spoonfull for each ball.
- Gently brown the meatballs on all sides in some melted butter combined with olive oil.
- Transfer the juices and browned meatballs to a casserole pan.
- Add the can of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, remaining mint leaves, stock cube or powder and a little salt and pepper to taste. If serving to adults perhaps add a few more whole pine nuts to the sauce.
- Heat gently to begin with and stir very carefully to combine the sauce ingredients without breaking up the meatballs.
- Bring to a gentle boil and then simmer on a low heat for about 40 minutes.
- Serve with white beans (cannellini) and perhaps white rice.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean hardy perennial herb which is easy to grow, particularly in relatively dry soil. It has been used since ancient times, being found amongst the burial effects of Pharaohs and being highly prized by ancient Romans. Anglo Saxons revered it as one of the nine sacred herbs and believed it could ward off evil. The Ayurvedic health system sees Fennel as being perfectly balanced in terms of pitta, vata and kapha doshas. There are many different varieties and in many countries such as Greece it grows wild as a very successful “weed”. Fennel makes a very unusual pot plant, if you have the vertical space. It can quickly grow up to 1.5m high with delicate feathery leaves, a bulbous base and large umbeliferous flower heads. All parts of this herb are aromatic, tasting of anise, and can be very useful. The “seeds” are actually fruit. Fennel is often useful during breastfeeding but shouldn’t be used in quantity during pregnancy.
Uses of Fennel
- Obesity – Pliny, herbalist of ancient Rome was very enthusiastic about Fennel’s ability to ease hunger during times of fasting and encouraged his contemporaries to eat Fennel and to drink Fennel tea in order to cure obesity. Apparently chewing Fennel seeds to help weight loss is quite popular in modern day Greece.
- Breast health – Fennel can help to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to soothe painful pre-menstrual breasts, due to its diuretic properties.
- Menopausal symptoms – a useful tea for fluid retention and anxiety. It has been found to have an oestrogen effect. If taken in excess it can cause the return of periods.
- Digestion – Fennel may help when digestive problems are caused by anxiety or some form of tension. It helps relax the system, to gently release trapped gas and to make rich foods easier to digest. Colicy babies are often given a little cooled fennel tea to help with trapped gas, or the mother can pass on it’s helpful properties via her milk. Infants should only be given a couple of teaspoons of cooled tea.
- Cough – Inhalation of honey cured Fennel smoke may help to cure persistent coughs. Crushed Fennel seeds can be gently heated on a hot plate or charcoal incense brickette, the fumes can help to loosen the chest and lungs. It is quite easy to crush them with a pestle and mortar. Alternatively a herbal smoking mix, containing honey cured Sage and Fennel can be burned to release the healing vapours of Fennel. More details to follow.
- Eyes – Some people find that fennel lotion, made from cool water as described below, makes is effective remedy for sore, tired eyes. It may be used to saturate cotton pads to use as a compress or as eye drops or an eye wash. If you try this ensure that the tea is extremely fresh and contains no bits which could irritate the eye. Drinking fennel tea is also thought to strengthen eyesight.
- Breath freshener – Chewing fennel seeds, particularly after a rich meal, is a useful way to aid digestion.
- Joint pain – Massage with Fennel infused oil often helps to ease the pains of arthritis and rheumatism.
- Anxiety or mild depression – Massage with Fennel infused oil or gently inhaling the smoke of burning crushed fennel seeds can lift the spirits and relax tension.
This can be prepared using either chopped dry or fresh leaves or crushed seeds. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup of boiling water. Crushing the seeds makes a much more potent tea. This can be done with a pestle and mortar, a manual coffee grinder or by gently bashing the seeds with something such as a rolling pin. Allow to infuse for 15 minutes. If using leaves, infuse 2 – 3 teaspoons in a teapot of boiling water for 5 minutes.
Boil a cup of water and allow to cool before infusing half a teaspoon of crushed seeds for one hour. Strain carefully. Can be used in an eye bath, as drops or to soak cotton pads.
Honey Cured Herbal Smoke Mix
Mix 1 tsp honey with 4 tsp water and add gradually to a 15g dried copped sage and 2 tsp of powdered fennel seeds. Rub the liquid into the herbs until they are all slightly damp. Lay out in a shallow dish and leave for a few days, turning occasionally, until the water has mostly evaporated and the herbs feel dry enough to burn. Store the mix in an airtight container.