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Raid Your Mint

September 10, 1997|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

Growing mint is the easy part. Figuring out what to do with it is the challenge.

Those little sprouts come back year after year, multiplying until your garden is covered. If you're just tossing a few leaves into a glass of iced tea, you're not making much headway with your mint patch.

Mint is such a great flavor carrier that it transforms a mundane-tasting dish into an exciting one. It is excellent in vegetarian dishes, especially in salads or quick-cooking recipes. (Too much heat may destroy mint's volatile oils.)

For a delicious and delicate salad, combine tomatoes, onions and mint. Be sure to use sweet onions such as Vidalia or Walla Walla. If you can't find a mild variety, don't worry: Mint is a breath freshener.

Serve Tomato, Mint and Onion Salad as a first course to an entree of Roasted Bell Peppers With Penne and Goat Cheese. Although the penne recipe doesn't call for mint, if you've got extra, toss in a handful.

TOMATO, MINT AND ONION SALAD

1 small sweet onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Water

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons lime juice

Grated zest of 1 lime

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons oil

Soak onion slices in cold water to cover 10 minutes. Drain well and separate into rings.

Place tomato wedges in serving bowl and top with onion rings. Sprinkle with mint.

Whisk together lime juice and zest, salt and sugar in cup until salt and sugar dissolve. Whisk in oil. Pour over salad and toss well. Arrange on 2 plates. Serve immediately.

2 servings. Each serving:

173 calories; 307 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.03 grams fiber.

ROASTED BELL PEPPERS WITH PENNE AND GOAT CHEESE

1 sweet onion, cut into bite-size chunks

1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks

1 (3- to 4-inch) rosemary sprig

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

6 ounces penne

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon mild chili powder or paprika, optional

Freshly ground pepper

Place onion, bell pepper and rosemary on foil-lined roasting pan. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Roast at 450 degrees until tender and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Cook penne in boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain. Toss vegetables with penne in serving bowl. Add any liquids from roasting pan. Strip leaves from rosemary and add. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, goat cheese, lemon zest and juice and chili powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

2 servings. Each serving:

612 calories; 402 mg sodium; 13 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 71 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 0.67 gram fiber.

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