How to Cook With Mint for Fresh Flavor
I taste mint every single day, but I don't often think about it. Plenty of other herbs either star or cameo in my omelets, salads, dressings, drinks, soups, and rubs, and they're almost inevitably billed in the title. (Why yes, a thyme-infused lemonade would be so very refreshing with my tarragon egg white omelet and rosemary-grilled chicken thighs, thank you!) But I brush my teeth at least a couple of times a day, and I rarely thought, "mmm mint," but rather just "clean." Unfair! This hardworking leaf deserves its turn in the spotlight.
You usually don't get a lot of say when you shop for mint at the store. It's just labeled "mint," and it's fairly standard—it might be the sharper peppermint, or the slightly sweeter spearmint, and they can be used interchangeably. But invest a little bit of time in obtaining a live plant (pick it up at most garden centers and farmers markets throughout the spring), and you can customize your experience with a range of mint varieties like chocolate mint, pineapple mint, apple mint, bergamot (a.k.a. orange mint), ginger mint, and more and yes—they are all thusly named because they bear a flavor resemblance to their namesakes. The plants are ridiculously easy to care for; just consider keeping them constricted to a pot rather than planting them in the ground because they'll come back every year and aggressively attempt to take over the entire garden.
But then you'd have tons of mint on hand. If you're not plucking it as-needed, take the cut stems from the store and stand it upright in a slightly-filled glass on the counter, or store it with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will keep for a few days. You can also chop mint leaves, place them in ice cube trays with a little water, and freeze them to use later.
And oh, will you use mint, once you get the taste for it. A few leaves alongside your regular greens in a salad, or tossed in with strawberries, bananas, and melon provide a cool thrill that enhances the flavor it meets. Chiffonade it into your yogurt. Chop it up with cucumbers, tomatoes and a kiss of vinegar to serve alongside each warm-weather meal. Muddle mint with lemon or lime at the bottom of a glass, top with seltzer and ice, and you have your new favorite all-day summer tipple. Simmer some mint with equal parts of sugar and water to create a simple syrup that adds an extra level of pleasure to cocktails, iced tea, and even iced coffee.
Peas and mint are a classic combination, but add a little pasta, grated Parmesan, and lemon zest into the mix, and there's dinner once (or twice) a week for the rest of the season. Pound that mint into a pesto with plenty of olive oil, parsley, garlic, nuts, aged cheese, and salt and spoon lavishly it on grilled meat or fish. Boil or roast new potatoes or carrots, slather them with butter, sprinkle with chopped mint and exercise the bare minimum of self restraint.
Should you wish for mint to be even easier to deploy, infuse some leaves into olive oil to keep on hand, grind them with salt or sugar in a food processor and keep that in tightly-lidded jars, or work a finely-chopped fistful into room-temperature butter, then wrap in wax paper and chill. Really, why should your toothbrush have all the fun?