As the summer drudges on with its oppressive heat and humidity, we’re all looking for a little relief. Sure, you can live in air conditioning, take a dip in the pool or hide in the shade. But what can you eat or drink for relief?
There are plenty of fruits and veggies that have a cooling effect, herbs included. Take mint; you can find it everywhere, in some form or another — gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, chocolates, ice cream — not to mention some of the more iconic hot-weather cocktails. Just imagine fanning yourself on a large porch with a mint julep in hand or kicking back by the ocean with a mojito — just two drinks flavored by fresh mint. Or, a simple non-alcoholic favorite of mine — water steeped with strawberries and mint leaves.
Mint has a variety of uses, from culinary to medicinal. Steep leaves in hot water to sooth a sour tummy. Use mint oils externally to repel mosquitoes or sooth bites, rashes and dry skin. It’s also often used in herbal remedies to sooth pain like sore throats and headaches.
What is this magic that makes our tongues tingle when we eat mint? Why does it taste so cool? It turns out that it’s just a sensory trick of the mind. Menthol, a compound found in mint, tricks our body into feeling the same way that breathing in cold air or gulping down cold water feels. It gets more science-y than that, of course, but you get the idea.
When planning a recipe for our “Foods That Cool” month, I brushed aside all of the obvious choices — cocktails, ice creams and other drinks/desserts. For inspiration, I gave some thought to several classic pairings: lamb with mint sauce, chocolate and mint … and the pea and mint combo. Adding a touch of mint to freshly shelled and lightly cooked spring or English peas is an amazingly refreshing way to cool off your palate in the hot summer months.
I haven’t tackled many soups. The last time I made one was for our month of aphrodisiacs last year: an avocado soup that was a vibrant green color. Well, why deviate too far from my comfort zone this time around? Green soup again!
Pea soups can be just right in the spring, but you may not want a hot soup in the summer. But adding mint leaves, I thought, might just bring a touch of cool — enough to keep it light enough to feel like you’re not overheating. And I was right!
The beauty of this soup is that it’s a light meal; since it’s all vegetable, it’s not heavy at all. Served warm, you get a cooling effect on the back end as the mint finds your tongue. And since it’s essentially just a vegetable puree, with no dairy or flour, there are no weird consistency issues with serving it cold — the effect is even more chilling.
Minted Pea Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups peas, shelled (fresh or frozen)
1 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 liter vegetable stock
Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
In large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook till browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Add in the peas, mint and 3/4 of the vegetable stock, stirring until well combined. Cover with lid and let cook on a medium boil for about 10 minutes. If you’d like more texture, rather than just a puree, reserve about 1 cup of the peas for addition towards the end.
If the soup is deep enough, use a stick mixture to puree in the skillet or Dutch oven. Otherwise, pour the soup into a blender, such as a Vitamix, or a food processor and blend until it is a thick puree.
Pour the soup back into the pan, add the remaining vegetable stock and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Note, if you have reserved peas, add them along with the stock.
Serve warm with grated cheese, minced fresh herbs and/or additional cracked pepper on top. Can also be served cold for an even more chilling effect.