Mint

Mint

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

There are over 40 varieties of mint. Peppermint and spearmint are perhaps the best known. The roundleafed common or garden mint, originally grew as a wild mint, and is among the best of culinary mints. Spearmint (the name refers to the arrowhead shape of the leaf) is the most widely grown and is sold commercially; it is often given away when buying fresh peas or baby new potatoes, and butchers used to give it away with a leg of lamb.

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow; it thrives in most temperate climates, in sun or shade, but likes plenty of water. The leaves can be dried, hung in bunches or laid on a rack, so that the air circulates. Once dried, the leaves should be stripped from the stems and stored in an airtight wrapping or container or in the freezer.

A clean-tasting herb, mint gives a tangy freshness to all dishes in which it is used. It doesn’t go well with other herbs or with garlic (although a notable exception is tabouleh, the lovely parsley and mint salad made with burghul (bulgar) wheat). However, it does go well with orange – try it in Duckling with Orange or in orange salad – and with lamb or with mutton, particularly the fatty cuts. Mint doesn’t really do anything for other meats, but it’s good with vegetables like fresh beans, peas and potatoes, lentils, tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), carrots and mushrooms.

The French rarely, if ever, use mint flavouring except oil of peppermint in sweets, but in most other countries of the old world it is one of the most commonly used herbs. It goes into soups and sauces, omelettes and salads, lentil pureés and even tea. In India it is used in some curries (particularly potato or lamb curry), both at the beginning and end of cooking. It’s also used in the cooling chutneys that accompany hot spicy dishes.

In Middle Eastern cuisine, mint is one of the most frequently used herbs. It flavours salads, such as cucumber and yoghurt salad; soups; the Lebanese kibbeh; and vegetable dishes. The British like to add a sprig of mint to freshly cooked peas or new potatoes, and to serve a mint sauce or jelly with lamb or mutton. Pea soup is superb when touched with fresh mint.

Mint is one herb that can be used in sweet dishes as well – many fruit salads are better for the addition of finely chopped mint. Pineapple, mint and Kirsch make a delightful combination. And you can garnish drinks with leaves of mint, or drop them into iced tea.

Vietnamese mint: Bright green, pungent-flavoured leaves growing on stems from a small bush, Vietnamese mint is widely used in Asian cooking. It grows very easily and is available at most Asian grocers, but if unavailable peppermint or spearmint can be used (although it has quite a different flavour). It is a vital addition to Vietnamese noodle soup (pho), and as a garnish in curries and fresh spring rolls.

Mint Tea: Place fresh or dried mint leaves in a teapot (glass preferably) and pour boiling water over. Leave to infuse for 4–5 minutes before serving with a lemon slice and sugar to taste.

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