From the Herb Garden: Mint

Now mint is a truly interesting herb, but it's so common that you might not think so! Just think about what a strong distinct flavor it has, and then think about all the dozens and dozens of dishes in which mint is perfectly at home. How is it that mint has become so universal?!

There are two main kinds of mint that we use for culinary purposes: spearmint and peppermint. Both have squared-off stems with bright green, spear-shaped leaves. Spearmint has a sharper flavor and more intense aroma, while peppermint tends to be more delicate and sweet. They grow everywhere and in a wide variety of climates, which is why the herb is found in so many world cuisines.

Peppermint also contains the chemical menthol. This chemical affects the nerve endings in our mouths and makes our brains think the mouth is cooler than it really is. This is why minty beverages are great to sip while eating spicy foods!

Spearmint and peppermint can be used interchangeably, but if you have access to both, you can play around a little more. We prefer stronger-tasting spearmint for savory dishes with roasted meats and rich sauces. Since it has a lighter flavor, peppermint is a better choice for desserts, simple vegetable side dishes, and beverages like yogurt lassis and tea.

Mint has a few classic pairings. It is fantastic as a rub or in a sauce for lamb, and it pairs perfectly with fresh peas and new potatoes. Mint is found in Indian chutneys and Greek yogurt-cucumber tzatziki. And of course, mint and chocolate make the best of friends in the dessert realm!

Here are just a few of our favorite mint-happy dishes:

Lamb Pitas with Cucumber Mint Tzatziki
Vegetable and Mint Summer Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Snap Peas with Meyer Lemon and Mint
Orzo with Fava Beans and Mint
Cilantro Mint Chutney
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Mint Juleps

What are your favorite dishes with mint?

Related: Good Question: Substituting Dried Herbs for Fresh

(Image: Flickr member Sandy Austin licensed under Creative Commons)

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