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Challenging Elements: Mint


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There’s something about the ambience at Black Cat that makes you feel as if you are visiting a friend’s home—a very cool, very sophisticated friend. Sofas replace booths or banquettes along the walls, and the open galley invites you to wander over and see what’s cooking. I found myself leaning against the counter, chatting with chef and owner Eric Skokan as he put the finishing touches on his dishes for this month’s challenge.

Knowing that Black Cat gets as much of its produce as possible from the Black Cat Farm, we gave Skokan mint for his challenge, a seasonal ingredient that is cool and fresh for summer dining and ought to be plentiful in summer gardens. He presented us with a three-course meal, incorporating some of mint’s most classic companion flavors.

To start, we had a plate of delicious mini Maryland blue crab cakes served with a sauté of fresh fennel, English peas and mint and plated with a creamy lemon aioli. Skokan grew up in Chesapeake, and thus has a soft spot for the classic combination of crab and mint, as well as peas and mint. A little olive oil and a bright splash of lemon juice rounded out the sauté, and I had to pace myself to keep from scarfing down the entire plate.

Next up was a beautiful piece of roasted lamb rubbed with black pepper and sumac served with a mint yogurt sauce and lightly sautéed baby radishes. From the East Coast to the Mediterranean, Skokan played with mint’s bright versatility, building on the taste traditions of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon with the sour flavors of the sumac and yogurt, bringing out the earthiness of the lamb and the mint. The entire dish was alive with different textures and flavors that played off one another on the tongue.

Finally, as a crowning touch, Skokan brought out a plate lined with chocolate mint leaves straight from his garden and dipped in actual tempered dark chocolate. Without a lot of added sugar, these little delights were simple, intense and beautiful: the perfect finish for a light meal without being overwhelming.

Skokan is no stranger to developing menus on the fly; as our photographer finished up shooting the dishes, he and another chef stood chatting about what had been harvested from the farm that day and making up the menu as they went. Who needs 24 hours to come up with a dish? Skokan and his staff do it nightly with only a few hours before their first seating.

Black Cat’s menu changes frequently; we suggest ordering the five- or seven-course tasting menu for a true Black Cat experience. The restaurant is located at 1964 13th St., one block off the Pearl Street Mall. Visit blackcatboulder.com for reservations and more information.

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Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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