I'm a natural-born killer. Show me the hardiest, easiest-to-care-for plant in the world, and within three days, I'll show you a pile of dead leaves. For years, my apartment has contained a single Christmas cactus that I'm explicitly not permitted to tend. And while I live in a city for many reasons, not the least among them is the knowledge that any garden I possessed would immediately turn into a patch of scorched earth.
But I also know we often typecast ourselves in ways that wind up making us feel bad. My track record with plants has always made me feel like a failure, fearful of bringing anything vulnerable and green into my home. So, I've decided to become a reformed killer.
Maybe it was the arrival of March, and the small shoots starting to peep through the ground in my park. Or maybe it was something about the phrase in one of my favorite cookbooks — "Don't take this as a challenge, but mint is almost impossible to kill" — that gave me the courage to try growing something on my windowsill. The worst that could happen would be another dead plant under my belt, one more victim to add to the kill list.
Fresh herbs are among the easiest ways to make almost anything you cook taste so much better. They're also often obscenely expensive. Recently, at my local supermarket, a tiny bunch was going for $5. Instead, I reasoned to myself, I could buy a plant at the florist shop in the mad hope that I would magically keep on having mint. Let's just say the relationship is still new, but we haven't destroyed each other yet.
Mint is supremely suitable for the nascent days of spring, when your eagerness for brighter, longer days might still have to contend with abrupt snowstorms and hostile wind chill factors.
Feeling invincible over the achievement of keeping something that is technically a weed alive for a few days, I started searching for novel ways to bring mint to the table and found a recipe for a Turkish street food called gozleme from the always brilliant Hetty McKinnon. In her version, halloumi, kale and mint are wrapped in a quick, yeast-free dough, then fried to make a satisfyingly cheesy, crunchy, herby dish that works for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
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The Australian native McKinnon uses self-rising flour for her dough, but because it's less popular here, I've relied upon a similar recipe that works just fine with all-purpose flour. I've also dramatically cut down the resting time to get the gozleme in your mouth that much faster, but if you have a half hour to spare, let the dough hang out longer. And while McKinnon chops and cooks fresh kale, I've taken the shortcut of substituting frozen spinach.
I'm not yet convinced I'm a plant person, but I also don't feel like the kiss of death anymore. I'm not nervous about the little pot of mint on the windowsill either. Instead, I just watch it lean every day more hopefully toward the light, and I try to do the same in turn.
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Inspired by Hetty McKinnon and Jo Cooks
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup frozen spinach
- 8-ounce package halloumi
- 2 ounces fresh mint, cleaned and chopped
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil (or other cooking oil)
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl. Stir in the yogurt and water. Mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the dough feels smooth and springy. (You may need to add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if it feels dry.) Cover with a towel and let rest.
- While the dough is resting, thaw the spinach on a microwave-safe plate in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Put the spinach on a few paper towels and squeeze to wring out any excess liquid.
- In a medium bowl, coarsely grate the halloumi.
- Stir in the spinach, green onions, mint and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into four equal balls. With a rolling pin or the palm of your hand, flatten each ball into a roughly 6-inch circle.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- On half of each circle, place one-quarter of the filling. Fold the dough over to form a half-moon, then fold over the edges to seal.
- Working with two at a time, fry the gozleme about 3 minutes per side, until golden and browned. Serve fresh and hot.
Store-bought fresh mint is, of course, fine. If you're not up for making your own dough, use tortillas and enjoy haloumi and mint quesadillas instead.
on growing and enjoying fresh herbs
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