Good Food/Good Health
Week of June 11, 2007
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Double Duty At Grilling Time: Tropical Dip & Marinade

from the
American Institute for Cancer Research

Fresh mint, lime juice and sugar—that sounds like the makings of a tropical drink. But it also forms the base for a tangy marinade and dipping sauce that evoke the flavors of Mexico, the Caribbean or the South Pacific.

Mint is a wonderfully fresh flavor that goes particularly well with summer fare. Over 30 species grow wild throughout the world, so it is easy to grow in your own garden. Fresh mint is now available in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The most popular types of mint in this country are spearmint and peppermint. While Americans have tended to use it in desserts and candies, other parts of the world use mint in salads, marinades, sauces and savory dishes.

Herbs, including mint, as well as spices and garlic, contain health-protective phytochemicals, so using them as flavoring agents makes them a double-duty ally at mealtime.

In many sauces with strong or spicy flavors like mint, garlic and red pepper, a creamy liquid—coconut milk in parts of Asia, for example—is often used to bind together and smooth out the flavors. In this recipe, fat-free yogurt fills that function without adding unnecessary fat.

Used in a marinade, yogurt helps tenderize meat, especially if it has time to work its magic—a half-hour for cut-up pieces, an hour or more for large pieces such as chicken breasts. Meats that are marinated before cooking have a richer, more complex flavor than meats served simply with a dipping sauce.

Health experts caution that raw meats—red meat, chicken and fish—often have unhealthful substances that will be neutralized in the cooking process. But when the meats have been marinated, some of those contaminants will remain in the marinade, which thus should be discarded rather than used for a finishing sauce. To be safe, make a double quantity of marinade/sauce mixture, using half for a marinade and half for the dipping sauce. Many marinades, such as those made with oil and vinegar, don’t work well as sauces, but this version can be used for both marinade and sauce.

Commercial marinades and sauces often contain preservatives, excess sweeteners and even dyes on occasion. Why bother buying them when this recipe is easy to prepare and healthier than anything you could buy in a jar?

Double-Duty Mint-Chili Marinade

Double-Duty Mint-Chili Marinade

1/3 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 finely minced garlic cloves, or to taste
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/4-1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper or hot pepper sauce, according to taste
1-2 Tbsp. plain fat-free yogurt

Place all ingredients except yogurt in a blender and purée until well combined and smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding additional sugar or red pepper, if desired. The marinade/dipping sauce can be made a day ahead if stored covered and refrigerated, but should be brought to room temperature before using.

If used as a marinade for poultry, red meat or fish, discard leftover marinade after using. To use as a sauce, transfer mixture to a bowl or pitcher. Stir in the yogurt until well combined. Let stand at least 1 hour at room temperature before using for flavors to develop and meld.

Makes about 2/3 cup.

Per serving (about 2 Tbsp.): 48 calories, 3 g. total fat (<1 g. saturated fat), 6 g. carbohydrate, <1 g. protein, 0 g. dietary fiber, 2 mg. sodium.

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AICR’s Nutrition Hotline is a free service that allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. Access it online at or by phone (1-800-843-8114) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday-Friday. AICR is the only major cancer charity focused exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. It provides education programs that help Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers. It has provided more than $78 million for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR’s Web address is

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