Remember mint sauce? I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t. I’d all but forgotten about it myself, until last week when the Mr brought home half a slow-cooked lamb shoulder as a souvenir from a night out.

While I was reheating it for dinner the next evening, watching fat pooling in the roasting dish and feeling too tired to make hummus, I remembered the ultimate in traditional accompaniments. Five minutes later…

Easy Mint Sauce For Roast Lamb

Asian Mint Sauce
Let’s be clear, this is a mint sauce with vaguely Asian ingredients, not a sauce of Asian mint (though I’m sure that would be nice, and if you have some growing, adding it would be a good experiment).

2 Tbsp grated palm sugar, or brown sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
a good pinch of flaky sea salt
about 40 fresh mint leaves, shredded

Put the sugar, vinegar and salt in a small pot. Bring it to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Stir and leave to cool, then transfer to a lidded glass jar. Store in the fridge and use liberally on appropriated roast lamb, among other things.

Given the weirdness of our weather – nearly May and it’s still t-shirt weather in most parts of New Zealand, while it’s sleeting in the northern hemisphere – it seems this fits the bill for Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking With Herbs blogging challenge for April, which focuses on herbs for spring and Easter.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

It’s spring! Proper spring – with balmy temperatures, early rising birds and new buds appearing in the garden. Well, it was like that a few days ago. Now we’re back to tempestuous winds, lashing rain and that horrible greyness, but I’ve got high hopes.

Spring Daffodil Photo: Lucy Corry

It’s too soon for asparagus and the little lambs arriving in paddocks near you are too small for the cooking pot, but there are lots of other spring-y things to eat. Here are five easy spring dinners to add to your repertoire…

1. Superfood Salad: It’s got quinoa, broccoli and other spring-y, crunchy things to make you feel like frolicking in the sun. What more do you need?

Leon-Style Superfood Salad

2. Tray-baked Lamb and Potatoes: This is really good for those ‘I can’t think what to have for dinner’ evenings, which occur in our house at least once a week. Everything goes in the oven in one dish and there’s minimal cleaning up (even the non-cooks can make this one).

Easy Greek Lamb And Potatoes

3. Spring Cauliflower Soup: Cauliflower has had a bit of a renaissance of late, thanks to the craze for turning it into a pizza crust, but I think it’s unbeatable in this simple and healthy cauliflower soup.

Detox Cauliflower Soup

4. Simple Smoked Fish And Rice: This is another one-pot wonder, handy when you’ve been out in the garden tackling six months’ worth of weeding.

Easy Smoky Fish And Rice

5. Little lamb burgers: If you’re blessed with a beautiful spring day, cook these outside on your (long-neglected) barbecue. If it’s ‘sit inside by the heater weather’, they can be baked or pan-fried indoors.

Little Lamb Mince Burgers

What are your plans for this spring? 

In Lois Daish’s 1993 book, Dinner At Home, one of the chapters is called ‘I Wish There Was Another Name For Mince’. I know just what she means. (There’s also a chapter called ‘Rice, Not Glue’, but we’ll save an exploration of that topic for another time.) Mince couldn’t sound less appetising if it tried. It needs a fancy marketing campaign dreamed up by a room full of consultants on six-figure salaries to change its public image from drab to fab. Alternatively, it just needs more recipes like this one, which I dreamed up to convince the anti-mince brigade in my house.

Middle Eastern meatballs
These are inspired by my absolute all-time favourite meatloaf recipe – a recipe I love so much I wrote it down in a proper notebook. I love all of Paula’s blog, but that meatloaf is a true gem. These meatballs are a good way to a) coax the non-meatloaf-loving eaters at your table to eat mince and b) stretch a little meat into a feast for four.

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp tomato ketchup (or chutney)
3 Tbsp honey
zest and juice of two lemons
a handful of sultanas
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
500g good lamb mince
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup cold water
100g stale ciabatta or sourdough, blitzed to crumbs
sesame seeds, optional

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until it is soft and golden. Add the salt, spices, tomato ketchup, sultanas, lemon zest and juice and cook, stirring all the time, for about five minutes, or until it thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and tip the mixture into a large bowl to cool completely. While you’re waiting, line a large roasting dish with baking paper and turn the oven to 200C.
When the onion mixture is cool, add the mince, chopped parsley, beaten egg, breadcrumbs and water to it. Mix gently with your hands – don’t squish it all together, keep it light. Form tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on the prepared tray. When they’re all shaped, bake the meatballs for about 35-40 minutes, turning them halfway through. If you can be bothered, sprinkle them with sesame seeds about 10 minutes before they’re done.
Serve with hummus, yoghurt mixed with a clove of crushed garlic, some salt, finely diced cucumber and lemon juice, some green leaves and pita breads.

What’s your favourite thing to do with mince?

After telling the great and the good of the New Zealand Food Bloggers Association that I didn’t like food blogs that focused on pets, a group of cheeky minxes started tweet-bombing me photos of their furry friends. When that joke got tired they turned into the baabaarazzi*, sending me photos of frolicking newborn lambs.

The silence of the lambs Image: Shirleen Oh

Now, I am pleading with them to stop. Those telephoto lenses must be very intrusive and I hate to think of those wee lambs getting stressed. I prefer photographing my little lambchops when they are snuggled into a tray with agria potatoes, garlic and olives (with a little parsley to remind them of grass).

Tray-baked lamb, potatoes and olives
This combines all the things we love in this house – lamb, potatoes, olives, anchovies, garlic and lemons – in one super easy dish. Throw the half the ingredients in the oven, get on with bathtime or having a strong gin, throw the other ingredients into the dish, make a salad, set the table and dinner is ready.

6 good-sized roasting potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
8 lamb leg chops
2 onions, peeled and cut into wedges
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of kalamata olives, stoned
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Heat the oven to 200C. Splash a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large roasting dish – I use the giant ones that double as racks in our oven – and toss in the potatoes, onions and garlic so everything is coated in the oil. Put the tray into the oven for 30 minutes, shaking occasionally.
Put another tablespoon of oil into a bowl and add the anchovies, then the lamb chops. Rub the chops with the oily anchovy mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the potatoes have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the tray from the oven. Make spaces for the chops and scatter the olives on top. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the chops and your preferred level of done-ness. Squeeze the lemon over the top, then sprinkle with lemon zest and chopped parsley. Serves four.

* Thanks to Shirleen for ‘baabaarazzi’. Isn’t it genius?

I got home late last night from a family funeral, emotionally drained and in that strange hungry/not hungry frame of mind that comes with standing around all day drinking cups of tea from an urn and eating club sandwiches.

The Boy Wonder had transformed himself into super housedad in my absence and when we got home from the airport this was bubbling quietly on the stove. It’s enormously comforting – he used to make it a lot about five years ago – and just the thing for a cold autumn night.

Lamb

Lemony Lamb Stew
This began life as a Ray McVinnie recipe, torn out of the newspaper back in about 2003. It’s now ours by adoption.

500-700g boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2cm chunks
3Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
5 floury potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1Tbsp flour (use rice flour or cornflour to make gluten-free)
2 cups beef stock
1 cup water (or 1/2 water, 1/2 white wine)
1 cup frozen peas
zest and juice of a lemon
fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and saute the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for five minutes over medium heat. Add the lamb and saute again until it colours all over, then stir in the flour. Let cook for a minute or two, then add the potatoes, stock and water. Bring to the boil, then let simmer gently for 45 minutes until the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the peas and cook for another 3-4 minutes, then squeeze over the lemon juice and stir. Sprinkle with lemon zest and parsley before serving with chunks of baguette. Serves four.