It’s springtime, and gardeners have either already begun or are anxiously waiting to plant their herb gardens. But mint, the hearty perennial, is doubtless already making its appearance if it was in last year’s garden. Neglected by many cooks, it enhances the flavor of many dishes with its rich scent. For paddlers, it can add a fresh zest to almost any dish. And since it travels well when it is wrapped in moist paper towels, why not include it on your your next expedition? It will take you away from the mundane by allowing you to easily concoct fresh teas and salads, will enhance the taste of your grilled meats and will add an exotic twist to the simplest sandwiches.
Mint belongs to the menta family of herbs, with about a dozen species and hundreds of varieties. It has long been prized for its medicinal properties. In China mint has been valued for centuries for its ability to combat colds and fever because of its high content of menthol. The Chinese drank it as a tea or infusion, adding a little lemon and they still do today. The Greek physician Hippocrates used mint regularly as a sedative and anesthetic to soothe agitated patients. Its antioxydant properties help with digestion and fight against certain cancers.
Time to eat!
Mint was probably first cultivated in the Middle East, but it spread rapidly throughout Europe. Roman Legions introduced it to England. Once planted, mint grows easily and is often seen wild as well as in herb gardens. A staple of Mediterranean cuisine, mint is used to add flavor to lamb, beef or chicken dishes. It is an essential ingredient in tzatziki, the tasty Greek dish made of yogurt, cucumber and garlic. Algerians use it to add flavor to chorba, a soup made with chick peas, tomatoes, vegetables, lamb (or chicken) and fresh coriander. Moroccan and Lebanese meatballs call for mint in their recipes; it can be sprinkled on hummus, and is a key ingredient in tabouleh, the refreshing and easy to prepare Lebanese salad made of parsley, bulgur (cracked wheat), tomatoes, onion and lemon juice.
Most recipes call for one part chopped mint for every two parts chopped parsley. Or just add a few leaves of chopped mint to your favorite salad. Served at the end of a meal, it helps digestion. Delicious in fruit salads, mint is also a classic in Indian cuisine, especially in raita, a yogurt-based condiment. Excellent in scrambled eggs with feta cheese, rice with vegetables and grilled almonds, as well as in bean salads, mint is also used in spring rolls, Thai chicken sauté, and in many French recipes, such as purée of green peas, lettuce soup or glazed carrots. Basically, mint can be used to complement almost any ingredient. Your only limit is your imagination.
Used with dill or fennel, mint gives a refreshing anise flavor to white fish, shrimp or scallops. It is excellent when served with chocolate for dessert. Finally, for a mint infusion, just add a few mint leaves to fresh water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes. If you fancy tea, just add a tea bag to the mixture, and voila! Don’t forget to plan a double portion to make iced tea for the next day’s kayak trip.
How to choose and keep mint fresh
A welcome addition to your panoply of fresh herbs, mint could become one of your favorites. Here are a few tricks on how to grow and keep mint right at hand.
- A very sturdy perennial, mint grows best in its own bed, although it also does well in the wild. It reaches its peak flavor just before and during flowering.
- If you buy it in bouquets, choose firm stems with unbruised green leaves. Place the bouquet in water. It should keep for several days.
- You can also wrap mint leaves in moistened paper towels and keep in the crisper of you fridge for 2-3 days, in the bottom of your kayak (or in the cooler).
- Rather than lose your mint leaves, chop it and freeze it, lay it out on a cookie tray and then place it in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.
- Dried mint is best stored in a hermetically-sealed metal container. You can dry it rapidly in a microwave oven to avoiding darkening.
In the kitchen, mint partners well with parsley, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, fennel, dill, chives, garlic, onions and ginger. It also serves as a fantastic natural flavoring for beverages (iced tea, milk shakes, herbal teas, lemonade or carbonated water).
Mint and mango salsa (4 to 6 portions)
- 1 mango, finely chopped
- 1 cup strawberries, chopped
- 4 green onions, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp liquid honey
- Zest of 1 lime
- 1 tsp cumin
- A few drops of hot sauce (to taste)
- 1 tbsp avocado or canola oil
- 4 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
- 4 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix all the salsa ingredients in a glass bowl. It will keep for 48 hours on a camping expedition. Serve as a sandwich garnish or with a salad using crabmeat, tuna, shrimp or chicken. Also excellent with scallops, whitefish or grilled chicken.