I remember the days when as a French -Canadian family living in Québec City, we were among the first few to make New Zealand lamb a staple in our diet. None of our extended family or friends had even considered lamb, let alone tasted it. My family was very open to new foods and we all loved cooking; we also enjoyed goat products because my uncle René owned Tournevent Farm, the first goat cheese factory in Québec. But I have to admit, seaweed had not yet made it to our repertoire…that is more than 40 years ago 🙂 Since then I have come a long way, on the subject of both mint jelly (my favourite accompaniement to lamb) and the culinary versatility of Agar, the vegetarian gelatine from seaweed.
All this preamble to introduce the fact that it is only when I met my Kiwi husband Doug that I learned to appreciate quality in mint garnishes. The mint jelly that my family used to serve with lamb had nothing to do with the real thing and I remember to this day the horror in Doug’s eyes when I served it to him the first time! It was an artificially coloured and flavoured jelly that had not even come close to a real mint leaf!
Since then, I have tasted lots of different mint sauces & jellies and I would like to share my favourite recipe. It is set with Agar which allows me to reduce the sugar content and obtain the same texture. This mixture tastes like the jelly equivalent of the genuine mint sauce: it is minty and full of flavour and has a good balance between the ‘mint tea jam’ & the too acrid flavour of the commercially made mint sauce.
500 ml organic apple juice (clear juice makes a better looking jelly)
2 cups fresh mint tied with a string
1 cup fresh mint leaves chopped very fine
300 ml apple cider vinegar
200 g caster sugar
6 g Pacific Harvest Agar powder
Bring the apple juice to simmer and combine with the bunched mint and leave to marinate overnight or alternatively, simmer gently for half an hour. Remove the mint (& strain if necessary) and measure your juice to make sure there is 500 ml; if not, top up with more juice. Measure half the apple juice and set aside in a separate bowl. Cool down to room temperature (if you have cooked it) and then sprinkle the Agar on it. Leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the Agar to swell. In the pot, add the vinegar & sugar to the other half of the juice and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 20 minutes to make a syrup. Lower the heat and add the rest of the juice (with the Agar); stir until the liquid is back to simmer (90 C) and the Agar is totally dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave the jelly to cool for 10-15 minutes until it starts to thicken then fold in the chopped mint. Ladle into sterilised jars.
Makes 3 medium jars
(this should keep for about 1 year in a cool dark & dry place)
Agar is a fantastic ingredient for which you will find loads of applications once you get a feel for how it works. There are many healthy reasons to use Agar and it is a positive alternative to most thickeners on the culinary side as well. Unlike pectin & animal gelatine, Agar allows a recipe to be modified if it sets to hard or too runny. Read more about Agar and how to use it