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Five ideas for recipes that use fresh mint

You know how strawberry-flavored candies don't really taste like strawberry, but rather an artificial candy version of strawberry?

Well, mint isn't like that. Fresh mint tastes and smells almost exactly like anything mint-flavored. Even a couple of leaves burst with that sweet, cool essence.

My husband and I recently planted a mint plant in our backyard that has flourished. So I have had plenty of time to test out different mint recipes. Here are some of my favorites.

Mint Chimichurri

Chimichurri is really just another way of saying "herb sauce," and it can be made with any herb you happen to have a lot of on hand. I like mixing a couple of varieties, usually with parsley in the mix to retain some of that classic chimichurri flavor. To make this one, add the following to the bowl of a food processor: 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 cup fresh mint leaves, 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, about a teaspoon salt and a dash of red pepper flakes. Pulse a couple of times until herbs and garlic are finely chopped. Add about 6 tablespoons olive oil, pulse just once or twice, stir to thoroughly combine olive oil and serve. If it's too dry, add more olive oil.

Mint Cucumber Water

Is there anything more refreshing in summer than ice cold water with a hint of something extra? Try flavoring your water with a couple of mint sprigs, a couple of cucumber slices and a fruit like watermelon or peaches. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, add lots of ice and sip all day.

Smashed Cucumbers With Mint

This is a light, interesting side dish that should be on your summer menu. To make, place 6 Persian cucumbers in a large zip-top bag and smash them a couple of times with a heavy skillet. Remove from bag and chop into large chunks. Place in a colander, salt with about 1 teaspoon salt and let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ small red onion in a large bowl. When cucumbers are ready, add to bowl. Toss with ¼ cup finely chopped mint leaves, a generous glug of olive oil, 2 thinly sliced radishes and 2 teaspoons za'atar seasoning (a Middle Eastern spice blend; this is optional). If you don't use za'atar, season with salt and pepper. Recipe adapted from Molly Yeh.

Mint and Feta Spread

This makes for a good dip, or as a condiment for burgers or chicken gyros. To make, combine ½ cup plain Greek yogurt and 4 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese in a bowl. Finely chop 2 tablespoons fresh mint, then stir into the Greek yogurt mixture along with 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Beet Salad With Mint and Almonds

Mint makes a lovely addition to most salads. But here, it offers something delicate and sweet to the mix of earthy beets and pungent shallots. Microwaving beets is a fast way to cook them, or you can buy precooked beets at the store. Start with 1 pound and peel then halve them. Wrap beets in parchment paper and microwave for about 7 minutes until tender. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks. Cook ⅓ cup couscous according to package directions, then let it cool slightly. Add to a bowl with the following: 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper. Mix well. Add beets and stir, then divide among serving plates. Top with sliced almonds and some fresh mint. Recipe adapted from Cooking Light.