Important fact about lemon balm: It belongs to the mint family. Important fact about mint: many varieties would take over the world if given the opportunity.
Neither of these facts stopped me a few years ago when I blithely tucked a pert lemon balm plant into my garden bed. I sorta knew, and I sorta glossed it over in my head (The glossing continued when I later planted spearmint into the ground as well. Use pots! Pots!).
Yesterday I made more room for my new plants and tried to stop mint world domination. During this act of heroism I needed to remove a gargantuan lemon balm plant—it was the mother of all the runners that had made their way around the yard. Transplanting a huge chunk to a pot, I saw that I had hardly made a dent in the colossus. I just gawked at it for awhile, reflecting.
Lemon balm, like mint, tastes lovely in spite of its aggressive tendencies. It tastes like lemons with a hint of mint. Like the other varieties of mint it also has digestive properties, so it makes a nice herbal tea or a refreshing addition to lemonade. But this huge plant would have made way more tea than I was in the mood for drinking. I needed a recipe that used the stuff in bulk. Like pesto. Along the way, I also made guacamole.
Lemon Balm Pesto
Note: In this recipe, I chopped ingredients finely by hand rather than using a mortar or food processor. I wanted to taste and see the distinct parts of the pesto. I was aiming for a pesto to top roasted fish, but I think this would be lovely on pasta with pecorino romano and generous amounts of pepper.
¼ t kosher salt
2 cloves minced garlic
½ t lemon zest
2 cups lightly packed lemon balm leaves, rinsed and dried.
¾ C finely chopped walnuts
1 T minced chives
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
*I did the mincing and chopping after steps 1 & 2
1. In a bowl, mash the minced garlic into the salt with the back of a spoon. Mash in the lemon zest.
2. With the lemon balm, first make a chiffonade -- stacking many leaves, rolling tightly, then slicing slender strips.
3. After you finish this, add the chiffonade and the garlic mixture to a cutting board and mince the elements together, until particles are well-blended and the size of fine confetti.
4. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the mixture, and lightly chop them in.
5. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the minced chives. I don’t chop these in because I like the small circles of minced chives, and the chives can retain more zing in distinct pieces.
6. Pour olive oil over mixture, and stir in.
7. Season to taste—adding more salt or olive oil, if desired.
Lemon Balm Guacamole
This is what I would call a recipe tangent. My husband Michael joked that I should make lemon balm guacamole, because we had seen a cooking show in which the guy was making different versions of guacamole which sounded gross to Michael. Though it was a joke, it sounded good to me.
3 T of the pesto mix at the end of step 3 (before the walnuts & chives were added),
1 mashed avocado
1 t lemon juice
1 T minced chives
Stir all ingredients together in a bowl and serve immediately, or place avocado seed back in bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the guacamole. Refrigerate and serve as soon as possible.
This is great with tortilla chips, though I’d also like to try it with taro root chips or on a sandwich.